Air drying green beans is a way of preserving them that dates back to pioneer times. It was especially popular in the southern United States where they were nicknamed "leather britches." It's a technique worth trying because once dried they keep indefinitely, and the flavor of the rehydrated, cooked beans is quite good.
- Wash the green beans. Snap off the stem ends and compost or discard them.
- Blanching the green beans before drying them is not essential, but does preserve the color better (if not blanched, the beans tend to darken as they dry). To blanch them, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and leave them in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer them to a bowl of cold water to prevent them from cooking further. Leave them in the cold water for 3 minutes, then drain again.
- Thread a large needle such as an embroidery needle with kitchen string or unwaxed, unflavored dental floss. Thread a green bean by piercing it with the needle in cross-section about 1-inch down from either end of the bean. To secure the first bean, draw the string through, leaving a tail of about 2 inches. Use that tail end to tie a knot to the main string.
- Continue threading the green beans onto the string, leaving 1/2-inch space between them so that air can reach all surfaces of each bean. When you get near the end of the string, remove the needle and tie a knot around the last green bean.
- Hang the strung green beans in a dry place with good air circulation on all sides. When they are completely dry they will have shrunk considerably and have a texture somewhere between leathery and brittle. This will take about a week.
- Transfer the dried green beans to clean dry jars or food storage containers.
To use your "leather britches," first rinse them off in cool water. Next, pour hot water over them and let them soak until they soften. Drain the rehydrated green beans in a colander, then simmer them in water or soup stock until they are tender. Traditional recipes for cooking dried green beans often include bacon, an addition I heartily recommend. Cook the bacon first until it is cooked through but still soft, then add the rehydrated green beans and water or stock.
Yellow wax beans can also be preserved and cooked using this method.