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Mint Harvesting Well Under Way

The following article from one my mother's scrapbooks appeared in a Fort Wayne newspaper, probably in the early 1950's.  Anybody who lived in the Merriam-Wolf Lake area during the mint distilling season can never forget the wonderful aroma pervading the atmosphere . Contributed by Dave Winebrenner

TRI-LAKES--Harvesting and distilling of mint is under way in the muck lands of Northern Indiana and area farmers indicate there will be a reduction in the yield this year.
C.V. Kimmell, county agent in Allen County, explained that the lighter yield this year is due mainly to freezes in the spring. Also, he said there has been considerable wilt in mint the past several years, resulting in crop reduction.
In this general area, the county agent stated, the acreage has been about the same the past 10 years with a 30-pound average in the yield.
According to producers and distillers in this immediate area, however, the production of mint is not what it was a decade or so ago.They report that some fields have been turned over to beans and corn.
The cold, rainy weather in May was blamed along with wilt for small yields in this immediate area this year. Kimmell explained that it has been difficult to find a cure for wilt, which results in a lot of weeds.
While the harvest is far from complete, yields of 15 pounds of oil per load of cut mint have been reported on some lands in this immediate section. 

Processing Explained

Both spearmint and peppermint require a lot of care but spearmint will produce for three or four years while peppermint is good only for two. The mint roots are set out in rows the first year and cultivated during their growth.Then they must be plowed up the following spring and reset. The mint is cut each year, however, and the harvest usually starts about July 1 and is completed about Aug. 15.
The mint is cut and left to dry like hay. Also, as with hay, rain doesn't do it much good. When it has reached the proper stage--about two days after being cut in most cases--it is raked up, loaded on a wagon and headed for the still.
At the still, the mint is packed into a big steam vat where the oil is steamed out.From the vat, steam and oil are carried into a condensing tank.
As the steam condenses, the resulting water and the oil run off into a can.The oil remains on top and the water runs off continually. The oil is stored in 400-pound drums and shipped to a distributor.
From the distributor, it branches out into all the many and sundry uses for the mint oil.And its uses range from toothache remedies to flavoring for chewing gum, with maybe a little shipped to mint julep land. It Smells Good Both private and custom stills handle the mint crop. A small, privately operated still, like that operated by Ross and George Winebrenner south of Wolf Lake, is called a "blind man's still." This means the boiler operates without gauges and the only indication as to whether more or less pressure is needed is the volume of water running off from the condensing tank.
A larger, custom still operated a few miles west of Winebrenner's by Harold Seymoure, has two large steam tanks which may be loaded and steamed separately.Constant pressure is maintained on the large boiler, too.
Both large and small stills belch out black smoke from their coal-fired boilers, but this sooty atmosphere is compensated for by the pleasant aroma which permeates the area during distilling operations.
Mint distilling may be dirty--but it surely smells good!