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Wannabe colonialists practice patience at 'Sugar on Snow' event

BEAVER BAY -- Herb Latten started the fifth annual Sugar on Snow festival on Saturday by putting five gallons of maple syrup over a medium flame at 7 a.m. The thin, sweet smell might have reminded him of home.

BEAVER BAY -- Herb Latten started the fifth annual Sugar on Snow festival on Saturday by putting five gallons of maple syrup over a medium flame at 7 a.m. The thin, sweet smell might have reminded him of home.

But the scene inside the Beaver Bay Community Center wouldn't have, unless Latten lived in pre-Revolutionary America.

Latten and his wife, Sue, moved to this North Shore community (population: 175) from Connecticut 14 years ago. The Sugar on Snow Festival is their way of sharing Ye Olde Colonial American lifestyle with their neighbors.

"We just wanted to share part of our memories of old Connecticut and colonial New England," Latten said.

The namesake of the festival is a treat created by reducing maple syrup over heat for several hours and then ladling it over snow from a Sno-Cone machine -- cleaner that way -- and serving it with a doughnut and dill pickle.

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A dill pickle?

"Everybody says that," Latten said, before explaining that the salty pickle helps tone down the sweetness of the maple syrup.

Inside the community center, about 150 volunteers had set up a replica colonial village, complete with a miller, a broom-maker and a net-weaver. A town crier gave periodic updates and let people know when the corn-husking and two-man-saw competitions were to begin.

The elaborate production required some commitment from its volunteer participants.

Edna Tosten, the village's dye-maker, said she had two or three weeks to research and start experimenting with plant-based dyes in preparation for the festival.

On Saturday, she helped visitors turn squares of white cotton muslin into earth-toned swatches using dyes similar to what was available in 1700s America. That meant using elderberries for pale purple, turmeric for yellow-brown and black walnut hulls for black. The hues are far from Crayola-bright.

"In colonial days, they didn't have too much access to color," Tosten said.

Beth Formanack started making soap only a week ago. On Saturday, she stirred a pot of liquefied coconut and palm oil and added evening primrose oil as a moisturizer. She wasn't sure if the soap would turn out, but even if it didn't, it would've smelled better than the soap colonists made. They used rendered animal fat and fireplace ashes for lye, Formanack said.

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Volunteers on Saturday had an easier time than their colonial counterparts would have.

Laura Perran-Shoemake, who owns Duluth-based Hearth Fire Candles, can make six pairs of beeswax tapers in about an hour and a half. Most colonists would have had to use smelly rendered animal fat to make candles, and would have spent all day making candles one pair at a time.

Laurie Kallinen of Silver Bay recruited children to help her churn butter and grate spices such as nutmeg. She said in Revolutionary America, eggs needed to be gathered, beans rehydrated and white sugar -- if you were wealthy enough to have it -- scraped from a conical package.

"It was a lot of work just to make an ordinary meal," she said.

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