Living in maple heaven / Vivre au paradis de l’érable

maple buckets

Gathering maple sap the old-fashioned way. Photo: Patricia Maunder

March may as well be renamed Maple in Québec. In the province that produces three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup, it’s literally flavour of the month when the harvest of maple sap begins. It’s a sign that spring is here, and it’s time to eat even more maple goodness than usual, from the traditional meals at maple farms, to seasonal treats, including maple beer and latte.

In Australia I had a choice of two brands of maple syrup in nearly identical bottles. It’s fairly pricey there, so used sparingly, and limited to but a few dishes (particularly pancakes), or entirely absent no thanks to maple-flavoured syrup – urgh! Now I live in the sweet spot of the maple universe: it’s way cheaper; there are as many ‘brands’ as there are maple farms (so thousands); it’s available in different grades, from golden/delicate to dark/strong; it’s a pleasure not limited to syrup form; and, especially at this time of year, it’s everywhere – even on the Canadian flag! Continue reading

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Sweet treats / Douceurs sucrées

Everyone's making a beeline for the maple shop at Sucrerie de la Montagne! The buckets on the tree trunk at right are collecting maple sap. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Everyone’s making a beeline for the maple shop at Sucrerie de la Montagne! The buckets on the tree trunk at right are collecting maple sap. Photo: Patricia Maunder

So, the long, cold winter seems to be behind us in Montreal – though not before we had a few centimetres of snow a couple of weeks ago. It pleased me, as I still find snow beautiful and fascinating, but long-time residents were aghast at this late burst of winter! What is there to do now snow sports are over, but before the pleasures of warm weather begin on Montreal’s buzzing terraces and in parks bursting with colour and life? Eat!

In recent weeks I’ve enjoyed three tastebud-tickling places in and around Montreal that have done nothing to help me get in shape for summer: a high-end chocolate shop; an all-day afternoon tea salon with vintage elegance; and a sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, that goes all-out traditional on the Quebec maple syrup experience. Let me put on my purple Willy Wonka coat and hat, and I’ll show you around … Continue reading

Quebec’s sweet temptations / Tentations sucrées du Québec

Fried taters, cheese curds and gravy - what's not to like? Poutine and Quebec craft beer at La Banquise.

Fried taters, cheese curds and gravy – what’s not to like? Poutine and Quebec craft beer at La Banquise.

We’re between seasons here so for a change I’ve nothing to say about the weather (or, more specifically, the remarkable pleasures it brings, from blazing autumn colours to ice hotels). Indeed, as the last snow melts and spring’s first shoots and buds appear, Quebec would be a dull, grey place if it wasn’t the ‘sugar season’. At this time of year, in the province that produces most of the world’s maple syrup, maple sap is harvested, transformed into everything from maple butter to maple tea, and inspires Quebeckers to stuff themselves lumberjack-style at les cabanes à sucre, or sugar shacks.

As I grabbed the huge jug of maple syrup, and poured it over the endless feast at a cabane à sucre not far from Montreal last weekend, I marvelled anew at the abundance of this divine syrup here. Elsewhere in the world, it’s expensive; the worst thing about that is not the absence of bottomless jugs of the stuff, but the abomination that is ‘maple-flavoured syrup’. It got me thinking about other tasty treats on Quebec’s table, some of which were unknown pleasures a year ago …

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