By Ernie Whitenack

"Artifically Aging Tobacco"

My order of a half pound of Hearth and Home's American Heritage tobacco arrived recently. This is my second try at this blend. In my years-long quest for a replacement of the old Ehrlich's DPE, I purchased some of this a couple of years ago. Upon opening the first bag I noted a sweet scent. My first reaction was "why don't they tell you when a product is flavored or scented!" I called Russ and asked about it and he promptly assured me that it was all natural tobacco. I must have smoked it as it disappeared.
The smell and taste might be from the cubes of pressed Burley, a casing put there in the manufacturing process to bind the leaves in the press.

I have been fooling around with some blending tobacco and obtaining some success at altering certain blend traits. Where Hearth and Home is a good "American English" (is that phrase an oxymoron?) and the scent soon became unnoticeable in my first batch, I decided to do a little altering to see if I could bring it closer to DPE. I added one ounces of Latakia to the blend. After checking a bowl full, I decided a bit more Latakia was needed to tame the Virginia and added another ounce.

Artificially ageing came to mind when I remembered the two year aging DPE went through before being cut into cubes. Three days later I had a plug of delightfully sweet and mild tobacco that was consistent throughout the bowl and slow burning while leaving a fine ash. It wasn't DPE but a good Burley-Virginia blend.

In last months issue of the Gazette is a link to Pipes Magazine and a very informative article By Russ Ouellette, the blender of Hearth and Home tobaccos, on adjusting a blend and artificially aging tobacco. I read the article with great interest as I have been doing aging for several years. My process is a little different however.


I am fortunate to have an antique cast iron leather press, also known as a bookbinder's press, which exerts a great amount of pressure on whatever is being pressed. However a press can be easily concocted using simple objects you might already have. I'll get to that later.

 

My method of heating the tobacco is steam. Needed are a fine mesh wire sieve, the kind for straining food and a non-aluminum pot with a cover. These are fairly standard in size and the sieve will usually fit a two quart sauce pan and rest on the top rim with a couple of inches of space between the bottom of the sieve and the bottom of the pan. Assure your wife that no harm will come to the sieve or pot.

  • Place some purified or distilled water in the bottom of the pan leaving plenty of room below the bottom of the sieve. It doesn't take much water for this process.
  • Place the tobacco in the sieve loosely but do not place it in the pot.
  • Get the water boiling and then lower the heat so the water is at a simmer (bubbling slightly).
  • Place the sieve in the pot and cover.
  • Allow the steam to permeate the tobacco for two or three minutes.
  • Remove the cover and check the tobacco with your hand. It should be quite warm but not excessively hot and quite moist but not soaked.

When ready, place the tobacco in a large, heavy gage plastic food bag. Get the tobacco to the bottom of the bag, about a half thick, and secure it there by rolling the bag a couple of turns. Put the bag in the press and leave it under pressure for forty eight hours. If possible, increase the pressure a couple of time during the pressing.

Remove the tobacco block and place it on paper towels to dry a bit. The time will depend on the humidity in the place you rest the tobacco. I have found twenty four hours works for me. Cut the block into manageable pieces and store as usual.

The press:
A reasonable press can be made using two pieces of three quarter inch plywood and a couple of cabinetmaker's adjustable clamps – the kind using a screw to bring the jaws together. C clamps are a good substitute.
Make sure the wood is large enough to cover the width of the bag and a bit more. Apply the pressure a little at a time, alternating sides.
Should you process more than a quarter pound of tobacco, it will be wise to place a piece of two by four on the top and bottom of the press. This should extend beyond the plywood enough to accept the clamps.

Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2011


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