Last year was the first time I grew tobacco in my home garden which yielded a little over 1.25 pounds of finished bright leaf Virginia tobacco. After aging the tobacco for 11 months I then started wondering how to prepare it. That got me quickly thinking about pressing the tobacco so that I could add just a bit of Perique and have the flavors marry. I saw some very nice metal C Clamp presses online but I was looking for something simple that I could make without investing too much time or money.
After searching around and seeing how others were pressing tobacco I ran across C Clamp presses that used plastic plumbing pipes. I went to the local hardware store and purchased an inexpensive C Clamp, 4″ ABS black plastic pipe, one flat end cap for the 4″ pipe (don’t glue it on) a piece of oak and a simple metal saddle. The flat end cap isn’t glued on so that you can take it off to remove your tobacco after pressing. You will cut the oak into 4 round blocks that just fit into the 4″ plastic pipe.
After assembling the press and testing it I quickly learned not to get the cheapest C Clamp the hardware store carried. The cheap C Clamp bent and bowed when I started really cranking down on the tobacco. I returned the cheap clamp and bought a Wilton C Clamp that did not bend no matter how hard I tightened it.
I am still experimenting with the recipe but the general principal is to let your aged tobacco dry quite a bit so that it is almost brittle but not completely dry. You will then add your topping to the dry tobacco with a spray bottle. Add the casing so that your tobacco is very moist. After adding the topping, if you choose to add anything, you will let the tobacco dry again to a level that will not mold. If you are using different tobaccos layer them. I added a spiced rum that contained sugar to help bind the cake/plug so that it would hold its compressed form after removing it from the press. I also added a few table spoons of vinegar to the rum mixture in the spray bottle. The acid in the vinegar helps break down the tobacco cells, mellows the harsh taste of tobacco and helps lessen any potential tongue bite.
When prepping the tube and blocks I wrap the blocks in plastic wrap so that the tobacco moisture doesn’t wick into the wood. I first put two of my round blocks in the tube with the grain on one block at 90 degrees to the grain on the second block. I then layer the tobacco in trying to get it as flat and even as possible. Once your tobacco is added place the other two round blocks with grains at 90 degrees. Last is the block with a metal saddle that the C Clamp will push against to prevent denting and cracking of the oak blocks. Click on the far left photo to see a better picture of this block in the metal strap.
Pressing the tobacco. Once everything is in place I center both end of the C Clamp in so that they are as close to the center of the pipe as I can get it. I then start cranking it down and get it as tight as I can. I will then try and crank it tighter each day for a week. After the first week is up I then let the tobacco sit in the press for one more week.