Even with all my best efforts for executing a backup plan today for providing pictures I will not be able to do so, again. I didn’t know that my iPad didn’t have a light with it’s camera as did my iPhone. And having additional lighting was important today as I was working inside one of AJ’s many curing barns.
Before going into the task I was assigned today I believe it best to review the tobacco curing process at a high level. Right after the tobacco is harvested it is cured in specially designed barns somewhere between four to eight weeks and on average its more likely to be six weeks. During the curing process the tobacco is removed from nearly all light sources by placing them into these barns. These barns are built so that humidity and temperature are controlled naturally; well, at least AJ Fernandez’s barns control humidity and temperature naturally. As the tobacco rests in these barns they release nearly all of the chlorophyl contained within their leaves. The barns are multiple storied buildings that when filled have so much tobacco in them it boggles my mind. AJ Fernandez has a massive curing barn they’ve nicknamed “Noah’s Ark.” This barn is nearly four stories tall and if I remember hearing correctly it is longer than a football field.
During the curing process what you want to see is the tobacco turning from green to a yellowish color then to light brown. After which the tobacco is removed from the barns and moved into fermentation.
Now the tobacco isn’t just tossed into the barn haphazardly. There is a process and that is what I am going to describe as this was my assigned task today. The individual tobacco leaves are sewn together in such a way that they can be draped across a bar and here at AJ’s this bar is a wooden stick of a specific length with enough girth to handle holding a few pounds of tobacco. Welcome my old friend the needle. Yes, a good ole’ sizable needle is used to sew the tobacco leaves together. The leaves are sewn together in pairs with each pair of leaves being sewn together with their backs together, vein to vein. Then the pair is draped on one side of the bar. Then the next pair of leaves are sewn together and draped on the opposite side of the bar. This process continues until twenty-four pairs of leaves are draped on the bar. Before I forget to mention, the leaves are sewn together vein to vein to discourage the leaves from sticking together during the curing process.
I discovered fairly quickly a neat process for draping the leaves so that they appeared to be side by side along the bar on both sides of the bar. I say discovered because the staff demonstrating this task were so quick at sewing and draping that I couldn’t determine their exact movements. And the slowness at which I performed the task was very evident to me because for every bar that I filled with draped tobacco those around me must have completed three or four bars each.
These bars are then collected by others who hand them off yet to another group of individuals staged throughout the rafters of the barn in order to hang them. Now the quickness that the others completed their draping allowed them multiple moments where they could relax for a couple of minutes throughout the day. Me? Not so lucky. Just as I would complete the tobacco laid out before me a new truck load would appear from the fields and the process would begin again.
I also had the opportunity to revisit a recent friend, tobacco sap. Because the tobacco leaves were fresh from the field their veins were still full of sap. So naturally my hands were coated within minutes. And every now and again the tobacco that was hanging above me would release enough sap that it would drop down onto my head. I was certainly glad for a shower after today’s tasks were done. And this process will continue until the growing season has ended which is usually sometime in April.
Until next week…. Long Ashes!