Comfort Food, Comfort Blends

Christopher Morley

We all know what comfort food is. I should encounter no controversy when I say that this kind of food serves a deep need in us human beings. It’s often the subject of food and competitive-cooking shows.

So why not comfort pipe tobacco? Indeed, why not?

Here’s my view of what makes a comfort blend, which is partly inspired by The Artful Codger and Eric The Blue Collar Pipe Smoker.

Let me preface this by saying that I do not mean in any way to disparage the hugely talented crop of tobacco blenders we’ve been blessed with. They are amazing, and I hope no one misunderstands me.

Nevertheless, in contrast to boutique blends (let’s call them), comfort, or codger, blends are not out to dazzle you with exotic ingredients and combinations. They are just there to help you relax, to comfort you. That’s a valuable service.

In an earlier life, I was a low-level stage magician. I entertained at kids birthday parties and adult functions. In this capacity, I came to associate with excellent amateur, semi-pro, and even professional magicians. (Long ago I interviewed James Randi and Milburn Christopher, as a kid I knew a real old-timer, Doc Irving, who was a friend of my father’s.)¬† Anyway, hanging out a bit with magicians, I realized they fell roughly into two broad categories (though they overlapped): those who wanted to entertain the public and those who placed a higher value on entertaining — dazzling — other magicians. This is no put-down of the second group, but it does differ from the first.

Tobacco blending resembles this (for me; who else?), and I’m now at the point where I am less interested in being dazzled by the blenders’ undeniable skills and more interested in the comfort that smokers traditionally sought from their pipes.

To each his own. Live and let live. Replace your divots.

On Palates Refined and Un

The Chairman of the Board

I’ve been blessed with an unrefined palate.

Say, what? That was no typo. I said unrefined palate Why did I say that?

Well, speaking for myself (I really have to stop saying that — who else would I be speaking for? who else’s palate can I use?), I maximize my pipe-smoking pleasure and relaxation if I don’t have to think about nuances and subtleties. I’d rather be relaxing and philosophizing instead of trying to pull apart and untangle the multiple real and imagined strands of a blend’s flavor: the fruitiness (not just fruitiness but dark-fruit fruitiness), the chocolate, the vanilla, the booze, the woodsyness, leatheryness, the whatever. So thank goodness I’m not very good at it. I judge a tobacco blend by the totality of its flavor, and I suspect that the totality is greater than the sum of its parts. Why break it down? It’s not for me. If you like that sort of thing, it’s okay by me. Live and let live, I say.

Of course, I can distinguish some flavors. I especially love maple blends because they taste so faithfully like maple. Being a keto carnivore who eats no pancakes or waffles, where else am I going to get my maple flavor if not from my pipe?

And I sometimes I can detect other flavors. I’ve smoked a lot of straight Virginias and enjoyed them, but it’s only recently that I found one that was bready (Amphora Virginia Blend) and another that was citrusy (Orlik Golden Sliced). I love Orientals, but only now do I know what people mean when they say they are sour (in a good way).

So — horror! — maybe my palate is getting more refined. I hope not.

The point is, I really don’t want to think about pipe-smoking. I want to bask in the comfort, security, and relaxation accorded by the flavor of a good, friendly, consistent blend.


Working around My Body Chemistry

Yesterday I wrote about tobacco blends that taste great but are so powerful in terms of flavor and nicotine, that I might have to lie down for a spell after smoking even a small bowl. I promised to report on a possible solution.

Lately, I’ve tried cutting these blends with a straight bland burley, and so far I like the results. Diluting with the burley has the effect of dialing back the flavor and the nicotine, and this has reduced the undesirable side effects. Of course the ratios of the two components are significant, so I am still playing with them.

The important thing is that the burley I’m using adds no flavor to the main blend. It has only a modulating effect — exactly what I am looking for.

What burley am I using? That’s the sad part of the story. I’m using McClelland X30 Pressed Burley. The problem of course is that McClelland and therefore this product don’t exist anymore. Fortunately I bought several ounces a few years ago, and I still have a good amount on hand.

But what about when I run out? I’m thinking that I could use Granger instead of Pressed Burley. When I first bought Pressed Burley, I also bought some Granger in bulk, and I recall that I thought they tasted much alike. If my memory is accurate, Granger — which I’m confident will be around a long time — should be a good tobacco for diluting the blends I have trouble with.

I’ll let you know.

Caution: some burleys, especially those from C&D, are quite powerful. They would definitely not work to dilute another powerful blend.

Tell me of your experiences.