Friday, September 23, 2011

tobacco-storing and cutting

I realize there are 2700 ways and everyone says their way is what works when it comes to the storage and curing of tobacco. This is how we do it on a very small budget and while I will not say it is the best way, it does give us a nice smooth tobacco that didn't cost 500 bucks to set up. We have tried it a few different ways over the last few years and we finally think we got it figured out. Again, this is just our way, our experience and our story. What works for you may be a little different or a lot different depending on your situation.
Sure, hanging tobacco for a year or two is a good idea in theory. Unfortunately, for most of us, hanging anything for two years would create all sorts of issues with space, cob webs, wildlife and other nastiness that I would prefer not to have on my tobacco. For us, the issue is room, mold and critters. A good pack rat will hoard away a months worth of tobacco in a single night. And, quite frankly, I am not going to continue buying tobacco for a year or two while waiting for what I worked so hard to grow to cure and smoke.

Anywho, once the tobacco is hung to dry it will require a couple of months to turn to a uniform brown color. This is where some folks think it should sit for a couple years. We don't! Once it is dry we pick a morning where the humidity is high and the leaves are flexible and strip the veins from the leaves. We are not overly picky in this process and only work on the center vein, the others will chop up later on in the process. Once the veins are removed we just throw it in a box, any box, so long as the top can be closed to keep the dust off. That's it! It can be just that simple.
We have played with this method the last couple of years in an attempt to get a better flavor out of the tobacco. We have figured out that it cures and develops a nice flavor once it has been cut and then stored. For storage we like to recycle coffee cans as they seal in the flavors and aroma while keeping yucky stuff out. It makes storage much easier since they do not take up near the space and we also know exactly how much tobacco we have.

Since most of us do not have the money to spend a few hundred dollars on fancy schmancy tobacco choppers and I know we didn't and still don't, we also experiment with different ways of cutting the tobacco. The first year we simply threw it into the food processor. It works but is very difficult to get the shredded tobacco a uniform size. A couple seconds too long and you end up with a powder and a couple seconds too short and you have tobacco that's three inches long that is difficult to roll and near impossible to smoke.

What we have begun to do is make a roll of leaves and place it between two blocks of wood, then take a C clamp and close it down to make a small brick. Once compacted, release from the clamp, take a sharp knife and slice it thinly. I have not tried it but have read of people using old school paper cutters to cut it after making the bricks. From there, a quick whirl in the food processor or a small herb/ tobacco grinder will bring the tobacco to a usable size. There are a couple advantages to using the food processor. Larger amounts can be chopped at once and it is easy to add any flavorings(honey in a bit of everclear or vodka). It is a good way to evenly distribute it through the tobacco without making a mess of things.

Once the tobacco is cut and chopped to the size you wish, stuff it into coffee cans or other container and let it cure and develop the flavors. The longer it cures the better the flavor that develops. I would like to say that we have let some of our tobacco age a couple of years and then tried it, but we have not. We always need to use it within a few months time. Maybe one day we will get to the point that we have tobacco enough to store some for a year or two before trying.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

tobacco harvest

Though much of the tobacco is still very healthy and green, we came to the realization the other day that we realistically have 3-6 weeks until our first frost. Tobacco quits curing when the temperatures are under 55 degrees and since tobacco cures best outside, it was time to start cutting it down and hauling it up to hang.Many who grow tobacco hang the entire plant to dry. Because of space issues and humidity issues here, we tend to hang the big leaves by stringing them up in small bundles and then putting the smaller leaves on racks in the sun. We actually prefer sun drying all the tobacco but this requires a lot of extra time and effort in the process and I can't be fussed over the time or the effort.
The tobacco has had a really good growing season this year and we were only able to get about half of it harvested and hung yesterday. Next weekend we will cut the rest. This week I will make a couple more posts on de-veining, storage and chopping.

silent sunday