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The Deep Background, Please — 13 Comments

  1. One tobacco company site describes it as “A subtly sweet, fragrant flake tobacco in the Irish tradition.” It’s apparently a mild to medium pipe tobacco. The McClelland brand, which references CARD in its description, is made in the US, specifically Virginia, and is flue cured. Other companies also make a similar product, but they seem to flavor it with vanilla. This one got the best reviews.

  2. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary:
    2. Honeydew A kind of tobacco moistened with molasses.
    3. Honeydew A sweet, saccharine substance, found on the leaves of trees and other plants in small drops, like dew. Two substances have been called by this name; one exuded from the plants, and the other secreted by certain insects, esp. aphids.

    In History and Status of the Green Peach Aphid as a Pest of Tobacco in the United States by Frank Shirley Chamberlin (USDA, 1958) there is this quote: “Feinstein and Hannon have shown that aphid-damaged tobacco contains less nicotine than comparable undamaged tobacco. Injury is believed to be due mainly to the removal of plant juices, but may be caused in part by injected salivary secretions absorbed and translocated by the plant. The deposition of prevents normal curing and causes disfiguration due to the presents of adhering cast skins and sooty molds.” Could there be some connection, historically, honeydew of the aphid and the favoring of damaged tobacco with molasses to make less than optimal tobacco sellable?

    The Virginia Historical Register, and Literary Note Book – Volume 4 – Page 176 William Maxwell – 1851 – Virginia has this listing:
    Oyler & Anderson, Lynchhurg, Va.—Samples of tobacco, manuf’:u-tured out of natural honey-dew, bright suncured leaf, the growth of Roanoke county. Virginia. That would seem to imply that honey-dew was a type of tobacco leaf.

    In History Of American Manufactures From 1608 To 1860, Volume 3
    by J. Leander Bishop (2006 reprint of an early work; not sure of original date) there is this: “The art of sweetening tobacco with mass licorice was discovered about this time [the 1860’s] by Mr. Jesse Hare, also of Richmond, and this discovery may be said to be the first step taken towards elevating the business to one of national importance. “Honey Dew” tobacco, as several of the varieties containing this ingredient were afterwards called…”

    So I might say with confidence that Honeydew tobacco is a flavored to tobacco by licorice or molasses, I cannot be sure that there was a Virginia leaf of that name before the 1860’s that was not flavored or that the aphids that attack the tobacco plant and secrete honeydew into the plant are related to the honeydew tobacco product and box in in CARD. Although, I am sure that ears were not involved in the process.

  3. Should read “The deposition of honeydew prevents normal curing and causes disfiguration due to the presents of adhering cast skins and sooty molds.”

  4. Any Watsonians in tobacco country? This seems like a topic for on-the-ground research. The derivation of the term is none-too-clear from the little I see. Almost as puzzling as “ship’s”.

    • Not in tobacco country, but will add it to my list of questions for the NY Public Library tobacco reference collection. Not sure I’ll come up with more than both of you have!

      • While it seems that “honeydew” and Virginia seems to go together, I did find reference of honeydew tobacco in Pennsylvania and the claim that some of Virginia’s best tobacco leaf was imported from PA. I’m sure those librarians at the NY Public Library tobacco reference collection are smokin’, won’t drag their feet and tamp down to business.

  5. Greetings All!

    This is absolutely fascinating… especially when you reflect that, since discovering the Canon at age 8, and now for 62 years since, my annual reading of the Canon has passed right by “honeydew” with no awareness whatsoever! You have enriched my understanding, and I am thankful for that. So much to do, so little time to do it…

    • I want to complement you, Buttons, on your sublime pun that got the ball rolling. It was only on the third reading of “Google gloss” that I realized it was more than a nice turn of phrase.

    • Guess I can put that in my pipe and smoke it! With such research skills around me, guess I’ll just put a plug in it for now and wait for the next question.

  6. I found this website which is apparently “This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica 9th Edition (Ninth Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries.” The tobacco listing is long. Here are a couple of quotes that seem pertinent: ” The most efficient means, however, of improving strong, ill-tasting tobacco is by renewed fermentation artificially induced by moisture and heat.
    Smoking [sic; perhaps a subject heading lost in translation] The manufacturer having prepared his mixture of leaves, proceeds mixtures, to damp them, pure water alone being used in the United Kingdom, whereas on the Continent and in America certain “sauces” are employed, which consist of mixtures of aromatic substances, sugar, liquorice, common salt, and saltpetre, &c., dissolved in water. The primary object is to render the leaves soft and pliant ; the use of the sauces is to improve the flavour and burning qualities of the leaves used.” And: “Cake or plug tobacco is made by enveloping the desired amount tobacco, of fillers within covering leaves of a fine bright colour. A large number of such packages are placed in moulds, and submitted to powerful pressure in an hydraulic press, by which they are moulded into solid cakes. Both cake and roll tobacco are equally used for smoking and chewing ; for the latter purpose the cake is frequently sweetened with liquorice, and sold as honey-dew or sweet cavendish.” I have only skimmed it.

    There is also this from the obituary of Peyton B. Gravely (1872-1955): “During this time (1843 to 1906) Henry County [Virginia] became world renowned for its plug tobacco of exquisite quality. There was B. F. Gravely’s “Superior”
    Peyton Gravely’s “Honey Dew”
    H. C. Lester’s “Lester’s Fig”, “Log Cabin” and “Honest John.”
    But by 1906, hardly single tobacco factory remained in operation.
    A majority of them went out of business during the “panic” of that year. Others were absorbed by larger firms which are today the leaders of the industry and the creators of some of the largest fortunes in in America.” So while I had thought that Jim Browner’s box of honeydew was pipe tobacco, it may have been plug, or chewing tobacco (with Wikipedia defining “Plug tobacco is press formed into sheets, with the aid of a little syrup, mostly molasses, which helps maintain form as well as sweeten. The sheets are then cut into individual plugs, wrapped with fine tobacco and then packaged. Individual servings must be cut or bitten directly from the plug.”).

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