Leather Britches!

— Written By Teresa Goley

Dried fruits and vegetables-probably the oldest method of food preservation. Another older method of preserving food was freezing. That is if you lived in a climate that had freezing temperatures that lasted for an entire winter. Almost everyone, before we had refrigerators and freezers as standard household equipment, had a root cellar where they stored fruits and vegetables to help preserve them a little longer. The root cellar was augmented with stored fruits and vegetables that had been dried for as a means of preserving. You could often see strands of onions and garlic hanging until needed in the root cellar. Beans and peas were often left on the vine near the end of the growing season and allowed to dry on the vine. Many of the local residents probably recall Leather Britches. For all of you who grew up somewhere other than the South or in the Mountains, this is the name for green beans that have been dried. The process is pretty simple. Just blanch the beans to help them retain their green color better. Then take a large needle, heavy kitchen string or dental floss and string the beans at ½ inch intervals. Hang them in a dry place with good ventilation. They should dry in about a week. The beans will shrink and take on a brittle, somewhat leathery appearance, hence the term – Leather Britches. When the Leather Britches were taken down to use in a favorite recipe, they just needed to be soaked in water for a a few hours. Apples were also a favorite fruit to dry and have on hand for a homemade apple pie in the dead of winter. Our ancestors probably just sliced the apples, covered them with cheesecloth and put them in a sunny spot for several days to get their dried apples. We tend to be a little more concerned with leaving our produce unprotected while drying and susceptible to visiting insects than our ancestors were. Beans and peas that are allowed to dry on the vine need to undergo a pasteurization process for insect control. To do this freeze the produce after drying for 48 hours or spread the dried product one layer thick and heat at 150 degrees F in the oven for 30 minutes. This should take care of insect eggs or other spoilage organisms.

Drying Herb leaves is another favorite for preserving. The herb leaves should be cut when the essential oils area at the highest. Cut six inches below the flower buds. Remove the blemished leaves, tie together in bunches and hang upside down in bunches in a warm dry place where they will not be in direct sunlight. Your microwave oven can be used to dry small amounts of herbs at one time. Put no more than 4-5 herb branches in the oven between two paper towels.

Heat on high for 2-3 minutes. Repeat at 30 second intervals if not dry enough. As you gather your harvest from the garden, remember the old method of drying as a means of food preservation. Small electric dehydrators can also be purchased to dehydrate your summer fruits and vegetables.

The Extension office will be having a dehydration workshop on August 30 and 31, 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. The fee is $20.00. Call  389-6305 today to reserve your place or email Teresa Goley at teresagoley@ncsu.edu.