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

Advertisements

Kitchen rants and raves / Polémiques de la cuisine

Fresh Québec corn looks good, tastes even better. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Fresh Québec corn looks good, tastes even better. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Officially, spring started here more than a month ago, but it’s only in the past week that we’re seeing real signs of it. Tiny buds and the first little blooms, such as crocus and jonquils, are popping out, and within two weeks Montreal will go from grey to green. As the city enters its alfresco phase, I’m opening windows for the first time in six months, heading out without scarf, hat or gloves, and thinking about all the yummy meals I’m going to prepare and eat when fresh, local fruit and vegetables are available again soon.

For several months, sad-looking imported produce has been the norm. Even if it looks good when I buy it, things tend to spoil quickly as it takes several days to get here from farms way down south, from California to Peru. I have never bought tropical fruit here at any time of year for this reason – it has come a long way, and it shows.

The limited supply of fresh produce has been the biggest adjustment for me in the kitchen since moving here, because quality local fruit and veg are available year-round in Australia: it’s temperate in the south and tropical in the north, so there are fresh strawberries 365 days a year, for example, as well as seasonal pleasures, from mangoes to wild mushrooms.

What else is different about the kitchen experience between Melbourne and Montreal? From the miserable stuff erroneously called cream here, to the revelation that is super-fresh corn, it’s time for some (pretty minor) rants and raves … Continue reading

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 …

Continue reading