Saturday, November 2, 2019

Leather Britches

Time was, back in the day, a floundering newly-wed bride could go to a granny to find directions on how to cook a meal. My mother-in-law was one of those go-to people. She didn't write her recipes. She just did them, and we daughter-in-laws watched and gleaned from her.

Now that I'm the granny...well...please, daughter-in-law, don't watch. I have no special skill to pass along that can't be found in the granny replacement called the internet. Look there.

So if Rebecca Boone, wife of frontiersman Daniel, planned to cook leather britches, she did so because she knew from her mother, who learned from her mother.

I have no such luck. Cooking something such as leather britches is a lost art, gone with the death of the last pioneer wife who toiled over a wood powered cookstove...would be gone, that is, if it were not for Granny Internet.
Once upon a day, there appeared at a club meeting I attended, a man with a bag of what he claimed to be "leather britches." Believe me, the leather britches in that bag did have the appearance of dried leather from whence the name is derived. These weren't strung together in the usual way, but glomped into a plastic grocery bag. Ha. A juxtaposition of modern and pioneer.

I had heard about leather britches, maybe even seen them hanging in pioneer replica museums. I read Laura Ingles Wilder with my fourth graders, and we learned they were green beans that had been strung on a thread in a homesteading way of preserving food for later use. Except that in the Ingles house, as in all pioneer homes, the granny taught not only how to string them, but also how to cook them. And there was my problem. How does one cook these, I asked the man. Alas. He had no granny to tell him either.

I resorted to the modern go-to search engine and voila, Smoky Mountain Living had the answer to How to Cook Leather Britches. The process is long (bless those pioneer women's hearts) and requires a watchful eye, so I set aside a long stay-at-home morning and commenced the grand experiment. I collected the appropriate ingredients, washed the beans, and started the cooking process using bullion cubes rather than the fatback of my mountaineer ancestors.
 They boiled. And boiled. And boiled.
 Until finally...finally...three hours later, I had reconstituted green beans with a most unique flavor.
Okay, so I followed the directions and added the full teaspoon of salt, and realized too late I should have nixed the salt in favor of seasoning already in the bullion cube. Easy fix. I pulled out a boil-in-bag of rice and conveniently (thank you modern life) neutralized some of the salty flavor. I'm glad I experimented, but I don't plan to do it again. Ever.

I can sort of imagine how Rebecca Boone survived without google in her life. I did, once upon a precomputer time. But a little deeper now, my food for thought question is, what are modern grannies good for if google has taken over that role?

Ha! I know the answer to that every time I text my granddaughters or hear a whistle on my cell that a new instagram photo has arrived from one of them. I may not be able to counsel them on leather britches preparations, but I am there for them in a way Rebecca could never in a million years have imagined, and I don't have to spend hours upon hours stirring a pot over a wood stove.

Ain't modern life grand!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

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