By Ike Adams
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — On July 8, I planted a row of bodacious sweet corn just shy of being 100 feet long. Brothers Keeter and Andy had visited over the previous weekend and Keeter had convinced me I could plant mountaineer half runners and corn at the same time without having the bean vines smother the corn.
I usually let my corn get nearly knee high before I plant beans in it but I figured what the heck and what’s to lose because the flying rats, also known as starlings, had already destroyed over half of my early corn crop.
So at every foot or so of row, I dropped two bean seeds and I believe it’s safe to say every one of them came up. In a few places the vines are so thick that it looks like they may have come up twice. We’ve harvested all the corn and never saw a blackbird in it because, I believe, the bean vines had it camouflaged. We wound up with as much corn from the one row as we did off three of the early crop.
By the time the corn was ready, I’d already picked one five gallon bucket full of beans and over the course of three weeks I’d picked three more. As with corn, what beans we don’t eat and squirrel away in the freezer we give to in-laws, out-laws, friends and neighbors.
After the corn was picked the bean vines got so heavy the corn stalks broke over everywhere an ear had been pulled so that now the corn is practically invisible and it looks more like a thick hedge row across the garden. Early last week, Loretta went out and picked a bushel basket heaped full and I got another bucketful. Lo has canned five quarts, frozen some and we’ve given both beans and corn to about everybody we know in three counties.
Well, actually, we took a mess down to Rufus and Phyllis Harrison in Laurel County last Saturday, so make that four counties.
Loretta had picked a lot of pods that were turning yellow thinking I might save them for seed because she thinks they’re not pretty enough to can but I don’t save anything besides heirloom seeds that you can’t find in the hardware or farm supply stores. The little handful of seed I planted in July cost 50 cents and I had seed left over. It would take two hours of time and trouble to shell them out, dry them, bag them up and find a place in the freezer to stash them. On the other hand, I am beyond thankful for the opportunity to save Bufford Caudill and Black Satin Fall beans and Bertha McQueery’s goose bean seed.
So anyway, I decided to save a bucketful as shuckey beans which I grew up calling leather britches.
Shuckey beans are dried and later eaten with the pods intact. It is a lot of trouble because it usually takes 5 or 6 sunny days to get them thoroughly dried, but once you do, they’ll keep for years in the freezer or even in a cloth sack.
When I was growing up, shuckey beans were on the menu at least once a week from Thanksgiving until the first of June. We dried several bushels every year. Mom had very large sewing needles that were only used for the purpose of stringing up leather britches.
The needles were threaded with stout nylon twine that had been used to sew and seal the tops of hundred pound live stock feed sacks. The string would unravel to six or eight feet lengths with one smooth motion when you got it started.
We tied a big green bean to the end of the twin, then poked the needle through green bean pods and slid them down until the string was full, whereupon we tied another pod to that end and they were ready to dry. During the day, they were hung on clothes lines and at night they were brought into the house and hung behind the cook stove to dry.
Once dry, Mom put them in a white feed sack, doused them with black pepper to keep bugs out and stored them in the pantry. We also dried several cushaws every year by first cutting them into rounds about an inch wide, peeling off the rind and hanging the rounds on a mop handle to dry behind the stove.
There was way more in a cushaw than one family could eat at a single meal. We ate the necks while they were still fresh and dried the main body to eat when all the green ones were gone. My brothers and I much preferred dried cushaw than fresh.
I’m gonna buy a cushaw in a week or two to dry and have with my leather britches when the snow’s a’ blowing and the cold wind’s a howling come the middle of next January.