We regularly get asked how to cure tobacco.
We’ve grown tobacco off and on for years, and have experimented with various low-tech ways to cure it, or at least to make it taste better.
If you dry green tobacco leaves quickly, the chlorophyll remains in them and the flavor is harsh and grassy, with undertones of burning oak leaves. It’s not a nice sweet smoke.
However, there are some simple ways to make it taste better, and get it to a quality level that is worthy of some homemade cigars.
You can dry and ferment them, like this fellow does:
And I may try that, as I have an old freezer in the backyard that has been looking for a new life. It would be perfect for a curing chamber.
We usually just cure them by hanging them up somewhere to slowly dry. In our highly humid summer, it’s not hard. We’ve hung them in our barn and are currently hanging them up on our porch, as you can see in this quick clip.
Down in Grenada, I hung them along the window in the living room on our second-story apartment. I wish I had a photo. There was a beautiful view out of the window of a coconut palm, and we had lots of “hands” of tobacco hanging on the grillwork.
After a month or so of hanging, the color has slowly faded from green, to yellow, to brown. Then we’d simply wet the leaves a little and roll them into cigars.
The longer we waited, the better the cigars tasted.
But, even with a short period of letting them turn brown, they tasted much better than when I dried green leaves on the dashboard and then smoked them in my homemade bamboo pipe during the pandemic. We were on lockdown and living in the jungle, so there was little to do. I would put leaves on the dashboard of our minivan in the morning, then sit on the side of the mountain and smoke them in the evening while I checked email and read the news of our impending Corona-virus-induced doom.
In North Florida, I left them hanging in the rafters of our uninsulated barn for a year or so, and then would make them into cigars.
We even made chewing tobacco from them as an experiment.
When I travelled to Indonesia in 2019, I tried the local tobacco and found it to be quite decent. I got about a pound of it for maybe 50 cents American, and smoked it in my pipe. I also tried the local cigarettes, which were very cheap, fat, and flavored with cloves. Which reminds me, before that trip I once added some powdered cloves to our tobacco and found it made quite decent clove cigarettes.
While in Indonesia, I came across a tobacco farmer who was sun-drying his leaf in order to later sell it to a cigarette manufacturer. This was his method:
There are many ways to cure tobacco, but thus far we have kept it very low-tech. It’s a decent, homegrown, organic smoke, so I haven’t innovated much.
On Grenada, I heard that the English would dry their tobacco, then pack it into a jar with molasses for some indeterminate period, pressing it down hard, and then, after some time, remove it and use it as pipe tobacco. That was all the info I got from the locals, however, and we did some small experiments without making anything particularly excellent.
It would also be interesting to try making rope tobacco:
This year I’ll have lots of leaves, so we have extra for experimentation.
For now, I know just hanging them out of the sun to slowly dry does a decent job of it.
I was just visiting my parents recently and Dad started telling stories about his childhood in Danville VA — working summers on his uncle’s tobacco farm in the 1940s. He talked about bright leaf. The leaves yellowed and were individually harvested. Later they had to string leaves up and hang them. Good stories — said it was hard work but fun times with the mules, cousins, ole time freedom running the woods. One of his uncles ran a speak easy during prohibition. Colorful. Had to make a living. I don’t care for tobacco but hope Marijuana is legalized to grow soon. That’s a pretty aromatic herb.
That is fascinating. I have also heard the naturally yellowed leaves are good.
I hadn’t heard of bright leaf but looked it up. Apparently the hot flue curing really had a bearing on the industry. Dad talked about going to the auction when they sold the bales. Tried to,imitate the autioneer. Lol. I mostly just enjoyed hearing him talk. He even remembered the names of the mules. I think he was glad to get away from there actually — join the Air Force, see the world.
I’m not growing tobacco this year, but there are a lot of great data points here to save in my memory bank. I appreciate you sharing this!