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The land is broken to the depth of six or eight inches in January when it is dry enough to be worked. If plowed too wet, and hot suns supervene, the land becomes as hard as a sun-dried brick. Another plowing is given to the soil about the middle of February, when furrows are run from four to five feet apart and beds thrown on these. Towards the end of February a rake is run over the beds, or ridges, giving each a wide, level top. Other beds are then thrown on top of the original beds with a one-horse plow, and the top of the new bed raked off with a hand rake. The plants are then set
FIO. 110. CURING PERIQUE TOBACCO.
out three feet apart on the beds, usually upon the heel of a good shower, but frequently the plants are set in dry weather and watered every evening for several days. The main planting takes place about the last week in February, or the first week in March. The cultivation is all done one way.
The crop is cultivated in much the same manner as in other tobacco growing sections, the main purpose being to keep the land loose and to destroy all weeds and grasses that spring up. Topping is done about the loth of May, without priming the plant. Early in the season, from 12 to 18 leaves are left on each plant, fewer as the season advances. There is no essential difference in the manner of suckering and worming the crop between the growers of Perique and the growers of other types.
Harvesting begins about the last of June, and it is deemed highly important that the cutting of the plant should be preceded by copious dews, that appear to give a great activity to the secreting organs in storing up the rich juices and gums in the vesicular system that give flavor and strength to the cured product. The plants, without having the stalks split, are cut with a hatchet during the hottest part of the day, about three inches above the ground, leaving two or three leaves bespattered with dirt on the stump. Hands stand ready to take the tobacco to a shed as fast as it is cut. No tobacco sticks are used. Small pieces of cane are sharpened and one is driven into each plant of tobacco near the end where it was severed, giving the cane such an angle with the stalk as to form a hook. The plants are suspended by these hooks upon ropes stretched one foot apart longitudinally in the shed, as shown in Fig. 110. As the plants wilt, they are pushed up closer together. No artificial heat is used in curing.
As rapidly as the leafy part of the leaves become embrowned, without waiting for the midrib to be cured, the plants are taken down from the ropes and the leaves pulled from the stalk. The first leaves are taken off in about ten days after the tobacco is put in the shed. After this two or three leaves are taken from the stalk, at intervals of a few days, until the stalk is bare. The stem or midrib, often green, is taken out immediately after the leaves are pulled from the stalk, and these "strips," or half-leaves, are made into loose twists, some 15 or 20 leaves being put together. A dozen, or more, of these twists are packed in a box 11 inches square, with a capacity of holding 50 pounds
When the box has been filled nearly to the top, it is put under a lever press, the lever being about 12 feet long, to the ends of which heavy weights are attached so as to bring a pressure of about 7000 pounds upon the tobacco in the box. After the tobacco has been under this continual pressure for 24 hours, it is taken out and the twists are opened, shaken and exposed to the air for a short time until the exuded juices are reabsorbed. These juices resemble thin tar, being black, thick and ropy. After this curing, the twists are again put under pressure for 24 hours, and then aired for a second time. This process continues with each box of tobacco for 10 days in succession, and then the manipulation is less* frequent, once in every three or four days being deemed sufficient. When the tobacco, at the expiration of some three months, is fully cured in its own juices, it diffuses a rich, spirituous, aromatic odor, exceedingly agreeable, the results of the aeration and absorption of its own juices. From a light brown, the tobacco has gradually grown darker, until, at the close of the process, it shines in oily and lustrous blackness.
The Perique tobacco is cured and preserved by the resinous and fatty substances, and the alkaloids and acids contained in the natural leaf. The pressure of a screw will not answer the purpose, for in that case the juices would be gradually reabsorbed without being aerated. It is important that there be a continuity of pressure, so as to keep the juices pressed from the,leaf. Dr. Gideon E. Moore, who spent much time in investigating for the government the changes that take place in the tobacco plant by different methods of curing, says:
"In the case of Perique tobacco, 'cured in its juices,' we have manifestly an instance of a conversion of a large portion of both the citric and the malic acids into acetic and butyric acid, and the agreeable, fruity odor which this tobacco acquires during the fermentaHon, while partly due to these acids, would indicate the presence of substances similar to the volatile oil obtained by Liebig, during the fermentation of malic a.cid. The Perique tobacco," he says, "contains but little over one-fourth of the citric acid, but one-half of the nitric acid, and about six times the amount of acetic acid contained in the air-cured-leaf." There was a total absence of nitric acid in the Perique cured in its juices, but it was present in the air-cured sample.
The robe, or wrapper, leaves are the highest grade of product. They constitute 10 per cent of the usual crop. The next grade is good leaf, which forms the fillers for chewing tobacco. This grade usually forms ODe-half the crop. Smokers, or the lowest grade, are made of the lower leaves of the plant, and constitute 40
FIO. 111. CAKOTTE OF PERIQCE TOBACCO.
per cent of the crop ordinarily. All these grades are kept in separate twists.
After the tobacco has been properly assorted and cured, it is put into cylindrical rolls called carottes, each carotte usually containing four pounds of tobacco, but sometimes carottes weighing one pound are put up for local demand. To put up a carotte, the tobacco is taken from under pressure, each leaf opened, straightened and aired. A cotton cloth, 24x18 inches, is laid upon a table and covered with robe or wrapper leaves, the under surface of the leaf being turned uppermost. The fibers of the leaves are so arranged as to point to the middle longitudinal line of the cloth. A layer of filler leaves, one-half inch in thickness, is placed on the wrapper leaves, extending to within one inch of the edge of the cloth. Over this layer of leaves a second cloth is placed and the tobacco tramped. The layer of tobacco then is doubled over at each end about three inches and tramped again. The entire mass—cloth, wrappers and fillers—is then rolled into a cylinder fifteen inches long an I three inches in diameter, a hole being kept through the center, making a tube, into which the ends of the wrapper leaves are tucked. The ends of the cloth are then tied with strings, and a rope, one-third of an inch in diameter, is wound tightly into a coil around the roll from end to end, by the use of a windlass made for the purpose. The rope is removed from the roll at the end of 24 hours, and then rewound more tightly. The cigarette is then ready for market. A day's work for a man, assisted by a boy, is 10 cigarettes a day.
These cigarettes are usually put up during the winter months, and this work employs every member of the household in taking the twists from the presses and opening them, straightening and weighing the tobacco, before putting it into carottes. The tobacco often remains under pressure for twelve months, and it is said to grow sweeter and better with time. As there is a demand for it, the tobacco is put into carottes. The carottes form a species of currency with the local merchants, and they are always taken in exchange for goods, or received in payment of debts.
Though the production is small, it has established a character throughout two continents for its rare qualities. It is unlike any other tobacco grown, in taste and flavor, and those who use it claim that it has more aroma than any other type; that it is free from the acrid, biting, creosotic taste so common in other Southerngrown tobaccos; that it has a rich, fragrant odor, with a smooth, delicate and agreeable taste, and that it stimulates the action of the brain without impairing the organs of digestion, or affecting the nervous system.