Peter Heeschen is a lovely man. Charming, humorous, and flush with anecdotes; here at Smokingpipes.com he is often ceremonially referred to simply as ‘Uncle Peter’.
Not too long ago I had the pleasure of keeping Peter Heeschen company while he was visiting in the US. We ate out at a handful of the area's countless restaurants, toured the extensive Vereen Gardens, and made a trip to the historical city of Charleston. We even made the opportunity to hang out at Starbucks.
On our ride to Charleston we made a pit stop for gas. As I exited the convenience store, having pre-paid for fuel, I found Adam and Peter at a boiled peanut stand. The idea of a boiled peanut is a strange enough concept for a guy native to California (I’d never heard of such a thing until I moved to the South). But I think Peter was positively dumbfounded - even something we Americans as a whole consider utterly mundane, peanut butter (at least as we know it), is difficult to find in Denmark. He must have been, because Adam captured the moment with a photograph.
|Peter Heeschen enjoys his very first Southern-style boiled peanut.|
So, what did Uncle Peter have to say about boiled peanuts?
“They are quite different, but also, they are quite good.”
To all you Danish pipe makers, come on down to the South and we’ll treat you to lobster bisque, grilled garlic and chili shrimp, and some boiled peanuts. That’s how we do things here.
Picking up where we left off at Mac Baren, in Part II of my Danish Chronology, we wended our way from Svendborg on the southern coast of Funen to Odense in the center of the island to visit none other than Peter Heeschen. Peter was waiting for us, beer or coffee at the ready, in his workshop. We sat outside for a time, catching up, with me reintroducing Peter to Kevin, since they'd only met briefly once before. Having arrived mid-afternoon, we would spend the rest of Tuesday and Tuesday night with Peter.
Visiting Peter is an interesting experience, not least of all because he insists that I make a pipe each time I visit. He knows full well that I have about as much native pipe making talent as a large tuna, though trusting me with machinery is even more dangerous, since at least I have thumbs that can be lost in the process. I think this is why Peter insists upon this: if nothing else, it provides endless amusement, and, as a bonus, I've never bled so much as to stain anything in his workshop. This visit was no exception. He had the two of us designing and shaping pipes in no time. Kevin had never done this before, so Peter spent most of his effort helping Kevin. Plus, Kevin seemed to pick things up fairly quickly and I think Peter was delighted to have a student that was a little easier to teach than it would have been if he'd tried to instruct one of his horses in the intricacies of pipe making. Note that the picture is of Kevin with his pipe.My pipe, while it smokes beautifully (Peter did the internals for me), is so ugly that it will never, ever be seen by anyone. I will only ever smoke it, in the bathroom, with the door locked and the lights off. This is a pipe so ugly, I wouldn't show it to my mother. Peter started cooking duck and we continued to work on our pipes. We ran out of time for staining and whatnot, so I buffed each and laid a coat of wax and that had to suffice for finishing (and even there I managed to do a better job with Kevin's than mine; not only is mine lumpen, I'll have to sneak into the office in the dead of night (lest someone see the monstrosity that is this pipe) to refinish it).
Now, cooking duck is something that I actually know something about, though I have to confess that Peter might have me beat there too. Still, I found it slightly ironic (and violating all sorts of division of labor principles from Economics 101 freshman year in college) that Peter was cooking and I was making pipes (for those of you who remember first semester micro, I kinda felt like New York trying to grow oranges). With pipes (sort of) complete, and dinner ready, we sat down together for some seriously tasty duck and potatoes, and spent the rest of the evening talking pipes, pipe shows, various pipe friends and the like, smoking small mountains of pipe tobacco and, in the case of Peter and Kevin at least, consuming impressive quantities of scotch.
After breakfast the following morning, we set out for the Orlik factory near the western coast of Funen. One of the greatest things about being in Denmark on a business trip is that it seems like almost every driving stretch between appointments is forty-five minutes, which is how long it took us to reach Orlik, in spite of getting slightly turned around on our way there. Having had a little trouble figuring out where we should be, Troels Mikkelsen discovered us and rescued us from wandering the hallways indefinitely. This worked out well since Troels was exactly who we were looking for.
If I were to discuss our visit to Orlik in any detail, it would require a half dozen blog posts on its own. You've already seen two videos from the visit (and if you haven't, see below and check them out; they're amazing) and I'll probably have one more over the next little while. Troels speaks so knowledgeably and so lovingly about tobacco that one can't help but be swept up in his commentary. We started out in the big tobacco warehouses, filled with thousands of 200kg boxes of leaf, waiting for processing. Countries of origin were stamped on each box: Brazil, USA, Malawi, Indonesia, Malaysia and a half dozen countries one would never expect tobacco from. Whether he was talking about perique or the changes in tobacco growing in southern Africa, Troels was erudite and compelling.
From there, we moved into the production facility, first encountering the great rope making station. When I die, if I end up in heaven, there will be one such station there. This, my dear reader, is where they make the Escudo. On that particular day, they were making Luxury Bullseye Flake, while is almost as much fun (and uses exactly the same process). Yielding heavy pressed batons of tobacco, ready for cutting, the process was a joy to watch (check out the video here). And thence onto the pressing and mixing and blending and topping and saucing and cutting equipment, much of which is linked together by a bunch of tobacco filled conveyor belts.
And onto the packing equipment, which, frankly, might be my favorite. Yes, the processing stuff is pretty cool, but there's just so much more automated fun to see during the packaging processes. Tobacco goes in one end and tins come out the other. We watches as tobacco was automatically weighed into little hoppers, put in tins, the tins sealed, and proper labels applied, all on one big machine, managed by one woman. It was amazing.
Having enjoyed the tour of the factory, we went to lunch (about which I've posted previously) and from there visited Lasse, the Mad Scientist Tobacco Blender, in the facility used for the My Own Blend line of tobaccos for the Paul Olsen shops, now owned by Orlik. Fully eight metric tons annually come through this small room, hand blended to specification by Lasse Berg based on more than fifty component tobaccos and countless flavorings. As I said previously, it's clear that Lasse thinks he has the coolest job ever. And, if it weren't for my job, I might agree with him. Lasse whipped up two blends, one for each of Kevin and me. Heavy in perique and light in rum, my particular concoction still waits to be opened. I wanted to give it a couple of weeks to sit before I did so, and now I'm trying to smoke through open tins before I open anything else, so I hope to get to it in the next few days.
My trip chronology continues to grow faster than I can work my way through it (which is temporally odd, given that the trip ended almost two weeks ago), so there will have to be a fourth and (I promise) final episode in this little series during which we visit Mogens 'Johs' Johansen in Frederikshavn and I have dinner with Nanna Ivarsson, her husband Daniel, and children, Sixten and Mathis.