Maple syrup taffy making sessions, hot pancake meals and wagon rides are traditional events starting every spring as soon as the sap starts flowing in Eastern Canada provinces of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. The collecting and making of maple syrup from maple trees starts the season of celebration for many families.
A Quebecois Tradition
The cabane à sucre is a unique Quebecois tradition where visitors eat a gut-busting meal topped off with maple taffy made from pouring syrup on snow.
Usually open from the beginning of March to the end of April, sugar shacks range from small family-run operations to large dining halls where folks sit at long tables and eat family style as wait staff rush back and forth from the kitchen to drop off large platters of food. Around 200 sugar shacks operate in Quebec Province, ground zero for the country’s maple syrup production.
A typical cabane à sucre meal includes pea soup, thick-cut ham, sausage links, bacon, meatballs, meat pies, omelet, fried pork rinds called “oreilles de crisse,” roasted potatoes or French fries, pickles, beets, baked beans and fresh-baked bread.
Tables typically are set with jugs of maple syrup, milk and water, and visitors are told the syrup can be poured on practically anything that’s on their plate.
Dessert is usually pancakes, crepes and maple syrup pies and tarts where, of course, more syrup is a welcome addition. Don’t think about the calories, think about the tradition.
Sugar shacks date back to the mid-1800s. Sugar houses were a tradition first introduced to New France by settlers of Swiss and Normand origin in the 17th century. They gained popularity in the beginning of the 19th century.
The ample fare is based on the food eaten by the men who spent all day in the woods tapping maple trees, collecting gallons of clear sap in buckets and boiling it down in wood fires. It’s common to see several generations, from grandparents to babies, seated around sugar shack tables as an annual spring rite.
Some cabanes à sucre feature live folk music. Many include wagon or sleigh rides into the nearby woods to see syrup tapping operations before or after the meal. And maple syrup taffy is always served in one form or another, bringing smiles to faces watching the syrup cool before popping sweet sticks into mouths.
“During harvest season, they are lively meeting spots bustling with excitement. It is part of our cultural heritage. Today’s sugar houses have modern equipment. Maple syrup’s production has changed over the years. But the product is as authentic as it was in the very beginning.”
Photography: Kandise Brown
Source: Meg Jones