Wednesday, January 7, 2015

More on Shuck Beans: Stringing, Drying, & Cooking

I've had a lot of interest in my post on shuck beans, so I thought I'd expand on this topic and talk a little bit about my experience with making this southern mountain delicacy. Shuck beans were a way to enjoy beans during the winter, and from what I understand traditionally were eaten around the Holidays.

I first learned about and tasted shuck beans (some people call them shucky beans or leather britches) from my mother-in-law. She is from Harlan, Kentucky and grew up eating these beans.

The first time we dried shuck beans we really didn't know what we were doing--in fact, we didn't de-string them well enough. Oops! We strung them up and hung to dry in a cool spot in our house, and then I brought them home to KY with me for my mother-in-law to teach me how to cook.

These shuck beans were in the spring house of a mid 19th century home in Yancey County, NC. They had obviously been hanging there for many many years!

Instead of the traditional way of boiling with some sort of pork fat, she let them cook for a long time on the stove with olive oil for a healthier version. They actually turned out not too bad, but not nearly as good as I had had before. The next time we made them she brought back some wonderful shuck beans from famous heirloom gardener Bill Best, and we made them at my house together. They were very tasty.

To start, you need your beans. We grew greasy beans in our garden last year, along with some half-runners which I've heard are some of the best kind to use for shuck beans. If you can't grow your own, see if your farmer's market has some of these varieties. Some farmer's markets will even have already dried shuck beans ready for cooking :)

Next you will need to remove the tough strings from all your beans. Then with a needle and thread, string them together in bunches and hang up in a dry cool spot. You may also be able to use a food dehydrator for faster drying of the beans. Or, you can break them into smaller pieces and let them air dry in the sun. Most of the time your beans will need to dry for at least a couple of months. I believe you can dry them for a very long time before they go bad.

Once they are ready for cooking, you will need to soak them overnight. Once soaked overnight you can start cooking them with whatever type of fat you plan to use. Some people use salt bacon, some use fatback, others canola oil.

one of my first attempts at hanging beans up to dry

A failed attempt at shuck beans--these beans I did not let grow large enough before picking. 

traditional shuck beans cooking on the stove

Cook the beans in enough water to cover until boiling and them simmer for a couple hours more or until very tender. Continue cooking until the water has cooked all the way down, stirring to avoid scorching the beans.

I'd love to hear about your experiences with shuck beans. Any tips for cooking them that I left out above? Please share!


  1. I have never heard of shuck beans before! How fascinating! I guess it's a deep southern thing and didn't make it up to Missouri haha. Looks like quite the process to get them just right. They do look tasty!

  2. I love how you're always able to point out past mistakes and what you learned from them--if more people did this the world would be a better place :)

  3. I absolutely LOVED this post!! I've never heard of them before so it was fascinating to me.

  4. My mother-in-law also made delicious shuck beans. She's from eastern Kentucky, and is the only person I know who makes them. We ate them at Thanksgiving. It's been years since I had any that she dried herself, but my husband remembers beans drying in the sun on a sheet draped over their car in the driveway. She swears by white half-runners, and cooks them with oil. I bought some white half-runner beans to plant, but haven't managed to grow my own beans yet. Thanks for the reminder. I may give it a try this season.

  5. Coming from a life, 62 years, in New Jersey, I never heard of Shucked Beans. We were invited to a friends house for Thanksgiving, our first year, in Kentucky. One of the dishes was Shucked Beans. Oh my God!!! They were out of this world good. I went back for 2 additional helpings. 2 years later, I am growing my own produce and raising chickens and goats and had to try these on my own. Today we are going to make the first batch, from the many strings of beans, my wife shucked. I will post how they came out, later.