It’s a good thing Loretta didn’t have a camera handy about three weeks ago. Otherwise I might have been a strong contender for the top prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos, a dubious “honor” that I have absolutely no aspirations for achieving.
For old time’s sake, I decided to thread up a long string of Babe Campbell Beans and hang them up to dry for “shucky beans” or “leather britches”. Folks in east Tennessee and western North Carolina, I have recently learned, also call them “fodder beans”.
In any event, it’s a way of drying and storing green beans with the hull intact. Once they are completely dry you can put them in big Ziplock bags and store them for months until you are ready to eat them. At which point you take them out of storage, break them up, throw in a chunk of fat back or country ham and cook them for a couple or three hours like fresh green beans.
Some people break them up before storing them and other folks break them up green first and dry them in dehydrators. My sister-in-law, Brenda Joseph, who lives there in Hotspot, Letcher County, breaks hers up first and dries them on a bed sheet placed on the hood of her car while she’s at work. I can tell you, for sure, that they taste much differently and far better sun dried than they do from a dehydrator. But that’s just my frank opinion after trying both methods numerous times.
Suffice to say that neither method tastes anything like fresh, frozen or canned green beans. But when I was growing up on Blair Branch, shucky beans were on the supper table at least once or twice every 10 days to break up the monotony of soup beans or homecanned beans. Suffice to say that beans, in one preserved form or another, were served at our place every day of the week, along with ‘taters, from mid-October until early June when the garden started coming in.
Anyway, as most of you regular readers of this column know, I have to contend with Parkinson’s disease 24/7. If you know much about Parkinson’s disease, you should already know that you should never sit or stand near someone afflicted by Mr. Parkinson if that person has a sharp instrument in his or her hands. You could get wounded, jabbed with a fork or find a bite of food dropped into your lap or pasted to your face.
What that means is that after I had pricked various fingers half a dozen times in the process of simply threading one of Loretta’s crochet needles with a six-feet strand of cat-gut fishing line, I knew that getting two gallons of beans strung onto the line was going to be a daunting undertaking. I had tiny little Band-Aids all over my left hand before I picked up the first bean.
My brother, Andy, had already pulled the strings off the beans and washed them, a task that took him less than half an hour that would have taken me upwards of half a day. Mr. Parkinson becomes very frustrated with anything having to do with green beans, other than growing them.
So I tied the largest bean pod I could find onto the end of the line as an anchor to keep the rest from sliding off. After poking the needle through six additional beans, I had accumulated six more flesh wounds and bled all over them.
The anchor bean was safe because I had not slid the others down the line, but the next six were a bloody mess, lost cause. I slid them back off the line and threw them into the bucket with the strings and such.
In the meantime I had discovered that 90 percent isopropyl alcohol would close a needle wound as soon as it touched the prick. I have no idea why the 50 percent solution failed to make any difference.
After making sure that I had stopped all the bleeding, I brought a bath towel out to the porch, folded it into four layers and placed it on a chair in front of the one I was sitting. I then placed the beans, one at a time, on top of the towel and poked the needle through them and slid them, bloodless, down the line. It took the better part of the afternoon, but, by golly, I intend to have shucky beans with my Thanksgiving dinner.