Friday, April 3, 2009

Cabane à Sucre à l'Érablière le Rossignol

30 Montée des 42
Sainte-Julie, Québec
One tradition that is very unique to Québec is going to a cabane à sucre (sugar shack) every spring to gorge on food drenched with maple syrup. That's because Québec is the world's largest producer of maple syrup (75% of world production). Forget about oil, Québec has "strategic reserves" of maple syrup, which have recently been dwindling due to bad harvests in the past couple of years. This has caused maple syrup prices to reach all time highs.

Maple syrup season usually runs from Frebruary until April. Production requires freezing nights and warm days for the sap to flow. The sap then has to cook down to 1/40 of its original volume to produce maple syrup. My sister's boyfriend's family made their own maple syrup but it made so little and required so much energy that it wasn't worth the effort. You would really need a big pot to make a significant amount of maple syrup.

A maple tree is tapped and the sap is collected in covered buckets.

It has probably been close to ten years since I last visited a cabane à sucre so I took this opportunity to go. Eating at a cabane à sucre is usually a yearly school outing with big groups. This time, there were my sister and her boyfriend, my friend C and a clan of her friends, and our friend D with her little man E. We decided to go to a cabane near our friend D in Sainte-Julie so it would be closer travelling with the baby and found Érablière le Rossignol (rossignol means nightingale) on the internet.

The cabane was not full when we arrived but sure filled up as we left!

It cost us $14 each when we went for lunch on a Saturday (same price during the work week) and increases to $19 for dinner on Saturday because it is their busiest time. The traditional white and red checkered tablecloths covering rows of tables waited for us. The menu is pretty traditional and will be very similar across most sugar shacks, although Martin Picard has opened Cabane à Sucre du Pied de Cochon, for $45 a person! I imagine duck and lobster drenched in maple syrup! Maybe next year...

The star ingredient: MAPLE SYRUP!

Food at cabane à sucre is served family style. When you run out, you ask for more and they will bring it out to you. Most food can be enhanced with a generous topping of maple syrup. At the table were little containers of cretons (pork spread) to spread on bread that came in individual plastic packs, pickles and coleslaw.

Top left going clockwise: cretons, pickles, soupe aux pois and coleslaw.

First, we were served traditional Québécois soupe aux pois (pea soup). Adding maple syrup to the soup is optional but adds a nice sweetness to it. According to the connaisseurs, the soup was not very spectactular and tasted like it came from a can. Next came the main dishes, slices of ham on top of eggs, fried potatoes, sausages in maple syrup, oreilles de crisse and fèves au lard.

Tasty ham on top of scrambled eggs.

I really enjoyed the ham and sausages. The potatoes were good and crispy. I remember really enjoying oreilles de crisse (fried salted lard) because of their saltiness and crispness and was looking forward to them; however, I didn't really like them this time. It tasted like eating plain fat. The fèves au lard (beans in lard) were nothing special, your usual baked beans.

Top left, going clockwise: fried potatoes, sausages in maple syrup, oreilles de crisse and fèves au lard.

My loaded up plate!

Sitting next to me was the perfect lunch companion, my friend D's Mr. E!

Next up were the much anticipated maple desserts. That's right! DessertS with a S! We were all looking forward to the maple sugar pies but were also served pancakes, fritters, bread pudding and maple mousse! By this time I was pretty full so I had to select my desserts carefully. Anything fried calls out to me so my sister and I split a fritter. The fritter was the perfect vehicle to absorb the sweet, ooey gooey maple syrup. One of my favourites! Then I moved to a maple sugar pie topped with some maple mousse. Why not? While it was very good, I'm glad I had a coffee without sugar to drink with because it was a seriously sweet dessert. By this time, all our hands were getting pretty sticky!

Pancakes and fritters, and bread pudding.

Close-up of the fritter in maple syrup!

Sugar pie with maple mousse!

If you thought the feast over, you were wrong. The final treat is one I remember the best: tire d'érable! Tire d'érable (tire meaning pull in French) is maple taffy. It is made by cooking maple syrup further down. It is then poured on snow. You're given a little popsicle stick that you twirl around to get the taffy around your stick. There is nothing more exciting as a kid than to be given a stick to get a sweet, sweet treat. Once the taffy gets cooler, it hardens slightly but is still definitely still gooey. You can make a real mess if you're not careful.

D was good enough to demonstrate how to pull some "tire". I "double" loaded my stick!

D and my sister L enjoying their tire d'érable!

I think that going to cabane à sucre every year, the novelty wears off. However, having not gone in years, I really enjoyed myself and the food. Any outside who happens to be in Québec during maple season should definitely seek out a cabane à sucre. The tire d'érable alone is worthwhile!!


Anonymous said...

OMG! This is so cool - like Little House in the Big Woods but in REAL LIFE!

OK, now I have to return to Quebec to go to a Cabane a Sucre. Do they run year round or just during the season?

Miss.Adventure said...

I think they usually run it in the spring time, when maple sap is collected. You should definitely come visit Quebec again!