Each year in the eastern Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the anticipation of the thawing period of early spring means that there is a lot of activity in the maple groves. The dedicated purveyors of maple syrup are busy re-acquainting themselves with their majestic trees, trudging through the deep snow on snow shoes, focused on choosing the spot to tap each tree for the upcoming season. Most of us have probably never thought about the size of the task at hand – imagine the work and energy needed to tap some 1000 – 5000 trees. This is not easy work! Nonetheless, my father-in-law Roger Otis, and his brother Bertrand, sincerely look forward to these two weeks in March. They love the quiet serenity of the forest. They love breathing the cold, fresh air. They are grateful for the the natural resources that nature provides. They are grateful for the maple tree.
Then, something magical happens – the maple sap starts to run, dripping from the spout of the freshly tapped tree trunk. Traditionally, this would be into a suspended tin bucket, that would have to be collected daily with the aid of a horse team and sleigh. Today, the sap runs directly into a matrix network of plastic tubes that use gravity and a vacuum to pull the sap. Starting in mid-March, the nights stay cold (below freezing), and the days become warmer and warmer. This contrast in temperature is an essential factor to harvest the sap, so it can begin its long journey to the Sugar Shack, or Cabane à Sucre, where it will be boiled down into famous, world renowned Canadian maple syrup.
Historically, traditional activities at the Cabane à Sucre was introduced to Nouvelle France by settlers of Swiss and Normand origin throughout the 17th century. Many of these activities continue to exist today, including sleigh-ride tours of the grounds, sampling local baked goods like sugar pie and sugar toffee or pulling maple taffy from a slab of fresh white snow. If you are in Charlevoix area at this time of year, be sure to visit Cabane Chez André (418) 632-5272, nestled on the edge of the mountain in the village of Petite-Riviere St-François, Québec. Not only can you experience a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River, you can treat yourself to the many traditional dishes and desserts complemented by maple syrup that they serve their guests.
Lastly, if you are planning to be in the Montreal area, we highly recommend you consider booking a reservation well in advance at Cabane à Sucre Au Pied du Couchon. Chef Martin Picard and his team will be sure to provide you an unforgettable culinary experience by offering new twists on traditional recipes, with inspiration in the spirit of the sugar season. Visit their web site at http://cabane.aupieddecochon.ca/