A while back LegIron posted an update on his Tobacco experiments and I promised I’d share what I’d been up to with my experiments. So now with all of last years leaves all packed and mellowing and the new crop in I thought it a good time for that update. Before I go any further I must point out that I don’t smoke so I’m dependent on friends for feedback as to how well it smokes and so far that feedback is good. I’m mainly growing baccy because I can and because people think you can’t (it’ll also be a valuable skill come the collapse of society or the zombie apocalypse whichever happens first). That the powers that be seem to be thinking about banning tobacco growing is just one more reason to learn how to grow and cure it.
Being the lazy sort I prefer to buy seedlings rather than starting from seed just because it’s easier and allows me to experiment with a larger number of varieties. This year I’m trying out the seedlings from http://www.uktobaccoplants.co.uk/ who have been great to deal with and sent good healthy plants. I’m still working on the best place/way to grow them in my garden but as I’m growing several varieties this year I hope to be able to experiment with cigar making.
This year I’m trying growing fewer plants but giving them more space, as ever slugs and snails are a real problem but mulch should help.
So enough of this years plans on to the interesting bits, drying and curing. I’ve tried a few methods for drying and curing based on reading various other people’s experiments and from notes from tobacco seed and plant sellers. Not sure if I’ve the best method yet but this is how I did the sample I sent LegIron and worked better and with less effort than methods I’ve used on previous years.
Following the advice of pretty much everyone I try not to pick any of the leaves until they’re turning yellow, not always possible but definitely the best time to pick them. I then remove the central stems and thread them on bent paper clips and suspend them from the ceiling to dry, which makes for a slightly odd living room. I have a wood burning stove in the same room which I suspects helps a lot with airflow and the drying process. I also do a lot of home brewing so the house is always kept at just above 18°C which may well help with the drying process.
Ideally I try to get the leaves before they dry out too much, you want them yellow to brown and just slightly flexible. Sadly of course actually achieving this isn’t always possible especially with variable leaf size and moisture content. Previously I tried making numerous small bundles as enough leaves got to the right point but really that’s far too much hassle. So If your leaves aren’t ready in suitably convenient batches, I recommend cheating. Just let all of the leaves dry out until the last of them are ready and then when you’re ready for the curing stage just drop them in a steam bath for 30 seconds or so to soften them up again.
Once the leaves are soft enough to flatten start stacking them on an untreated wooden board, just lay them out on top of each other. I’m not sure yet what depth of leaves I can get away with in a single stack but certainly about a quarter of an inch thickness or so. I suspect the stack could be quite a bit thicker if I used better clamps but you’re looking at doing something like this.
The stack in the picture above is quite small because I was just using up the last of the years harvest. The previous batch which LegIron got to try was quite a bit thicker and with considerably larger leaves. Once you’re happy with your stack of leaves, get another piece of untreated board of the same dimensions as the one your leaves are on and clamp them together as if you were drying flowers only without the blotting paper.
Now that your clamp is ready, put it out-of-the-way somewhere warm and dry, I use my boiler cupboard, and ignore it for a while. After a few weeks take a look at it to check for mould. Peel the stack off the boards give it a bit of a sniff to see if it smells ready, then clamp it all back up and put it back to be ignored for a while longer. Check it now and then until it smells ready but mainly just ignore it. The stack should form a slightly flexible block of tobacco leaves. The final step I then take is to vacuum pack the cured and pressed leaves in suitable sized batches. To help ensure that the leaves stay moist and also to add a bit of extra flavour I’ve been putting a small pad of fabric soaked in alcohol in with the leaves when I pack them. So far this has worked well with Whiskey so I’m now trying rum and absinthe, I’ll report back on those experiments once I’ve found volunteers to try them.
I’m still tweaking the process and I’m sure there’s lots of room for improvement but this method seems to work well and without needing to pay too much attention to the leaves most of the time. I’m sure there’s room yet to improve how much I can just ignore the tobacco leaves and so put even less effort into the process.