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Back to Basics continues teaching traditional skills - Fruth presents on maple syrup

The vendor fair at the Feb. 11 Back to Basics at the Pine River-Backus School was a popular place for visitors to find locally produced products, including locally sourced seeds, alpaca clothing, fruit preserves and many other products. Travis Grimler/Echo Journal 1 / 5
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Travis Grimler/Echo Journal Jackie Horan from For the Love of Goats winds mohair as Keeda Johnson and Hannah Johnson watch.4 / 5
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Jim Fruth, of Brambleberry Farms in Pequot Lakes, returned to Back to Basics on Saturday, Feb. 11, at Pine River-Backus School where he was not only a vendor but also a presenter on maple syrup production.

Fruth brought the tools of the trade with him in a large suitcase and presented them one after the other along with handouts showing the leaves of trees that can be tapped for syrup.

With maple syrup likely flowing soon, the information presented at the event is timely.

Necessary tools Fruth presented included:

• Spiles (called taps when they are in the tree). These can be made from dry elderberry branches or copper tubing or can be purchased commercially.

• A large thermometer that can go to a high temperature.

• A 5/16- to 3/8-inch standard drill bit to tap trees.

• Containers for sap. These can be traditional sap buckets or bags, plastic pails, milk cartons or one of many other containers.

• A wide but shallow boiling container.

• Fine filters

Optional tools Fruth presented included:

• A hydrometer.

• A hydrometer cup.

• Thin hose (if using a hose collection system)

Fruth said tap holes should be approximately three inches deep (or less if the tree is smaller or possibly hollow). Tap holes should also slant upward at approximately 7 degrees so sap runs outward. Though thinner trees can be successfully tapped, Fruth said the industry standard is not to tap trees smaller than 10 inches around. If a tree has been tapped before, Fruth said it should be tapped three inches higher and in one direction from the last hole so that holes spiral around the tree and don't intersect.

Fruth said sap begins to run at about 35 degrees, and stops at about 45 degrees. Fruth said most literature suggests that sap runs best when nighttime temperatures are very low and daytime temperatures are above freezing. Once trees start to bud, he also said tapping should come to an end.

Sap should be collected daily, and any sap that isn't going to be processed in a reasonable amount of time should be poured out to avoid fermentation. Fruth recommends boiling sap at a depth of 1 ½ to 2 inches in order to evaporate more quickly. He said this results in less boiling time, lighter colored syrup and an overall better product with less work.

Fruth also reminded attendees that camp stoves cannot be used indoors for boiling due to carbon monoxide, and the main evaporation steps should be done outdoors to prevent moisture problems indoors.

The goal is to boil the sap from 2 to 5 percent sugar content to 65.5 percent. The content can be determined using a hydrometer according to instructions or by monitoring boiling temperature, as syrup at that concentration will boil at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. Accounting for local elevation that amounts to approximately 217 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fruth was one of many presenters at this year's Back to Basics event. Other experts spoke on subjects including yoga, essential oils, sustainable furniture, solar power and canning food.

The event also featured a vendor fair that was open to the public.

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