It wasn’t until my adult life and the city experience that I learned there was any other way than the Kentucky mountain way to fix green beans, or breeds of green beans that didn’t have large bullets (seed) in the pod. It was odd to me that someone would simply steam their green beans, pick them early from the vine for the crisp thin pod, or squirt lemon juice over them. Green beans in a salad was something I hadn’t seen before. I had a hard time accepting there were people that liked green beans made without fatback bacon, bacon grease and salt and pepper.
Homeschooling the girls is opening my eyes to a lot of things. We’ve been on the homeschool rhythm for a month now, and I’m even reluctant to call it a “homeschool” rhythm. Naming it something other than our daily rhythm has helped give it priority for me. It is now important enough not to neglect. This rhythm has made me more conscious of involving both the girls in my chores and I have been pleasantly surprised at what they are capable of at such a young age.
We picked our first mess of green beans from our vines on Sunday. A few days ago I decided to break them up and string them so we could have fresh beans for dinner. At first, I was going to do the stringing and let Deladis break them, but she wanted to string too. I showed her quickly as I kept the pace of our work. She caught on so fast and when I looked up again she was meticulously pulling the strings down the pods and breaking the finished bean.
I continued to work and was glad to share this with her. This is real tradition right here folks. Women and men in the mountains have been sharing the work of bean stringing since they came to the hills. I can’t describe how my heart swelled with joy that my child taught me that she was ready and capable to learn this task. I didn’t really teach her at all. She learned through imitation.
She was so proud when we were finished. I double checked the beans as there is nothing worse than a pot of stringy beans, and she did pretty good. They were still a bit stringy when we ate them later, but not too bad.
To cook a mess of fresh green beans Appalachian style, you prepare them as we did here, then, follow these instructions.
- Cover the broken and strung beans with just enough water to be even with the beans.
- Place a generous amount of bacon grease (some folks use peanut oil).
- You may also add fatback (fatty salt pork) and cut onion, but that’s optional.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring the pot to a boil. Turn down the heat then let simmer 2-4 hours depending on the amount of beans.
When the beans are cooked through they will be soft but not mushy. They will be much darker in color and the bullets (seed) will have turned brown in most cases. Common breeds of beans grown in the mountains are white half runners (probably the favorite), fall beans both white and speckled, October beans, Kentucky Blue Wonder, Creasy (Greasy) Beans, and bush beans. The beans you see in these photos are Kentucky Blue Wonders.
Green beans like this are a wonderful summer and fall meal with cornbread, fresh cut tomato and cucumber, roastin’ ears (corn on the cob) and fried potatoes. It is definitely a fresh meal of substance when there isn’t meat available. November was usually hog killing time in the mountains and that was the main meat source for the mountaineer. Chicken and cattle were too valuable for other purposes to eat often. Pork chop or tenderloin is also a good addition to this meal in the fall when you need heartier fare.
Another great way to make green beans is called shucky beans in most families with which I am familiar, but many Appalachians call them leather breeches. (Tipper at Blind Pig and the Acorn has a great post on leather breeches.) These are dried beans and must be soaked overnight and cooked slow until tender once again with the same added ingredients as the fresh beans.
Enjoy! We sure did. 🙂