Sugaring-Off Around Montréal

April 2004

After repeatedly long and cold winters, it seems it should be normal for people to desperately crave sweets. Going to the cabane à sucre is Québec's traditional way of getting through the last winter months.

The Sugar Shack Experience
At the sucrerie (sugar shack) you get served pea soup, omelet, ham, thin pancakes, baked beans, cretons, oreilles de crisse. Don't hesitate to sweeten everything. Use the larges bottles of maple syrup on each table. Salads, pies and desserts as well as donuts complete the stuffing meal. Then go for a sleigh ride, take your kids to savour taffy on snow (tire sur la neige), shop at the boutique, or enjoy a long walk on the paths. Look for a possible animal farm with goats, rabbits and horses.

The Maple Tree
Out of over 100 types of maple trees, only three give maple syrup: Sugar Maple (érable à sucre) will normally live 250 years; Red Maple (érable rouge), 150 years; and Silver Maple (érable argenté), 125 years.

A Bit of History
Maple syrup was first mentioned in New France in 1558. In the late 18th century, maple sugar farmers started building wooden shacks to put up workers and house horses for the 6-week duration of sugar time. Producers come in great numbers in Quebec. From 17,000 in 1969, however, coops and groupings brought down their number down to 10,000 in 1976 and to an even lower 7,000 in 1997. Sadly, quite a few maple trees were damaged during the 1998 winter ice storm.

Connoisseur Quality
It takes 68 litres of maple sap to produce 4.5 litres of syrup. In order to be called pur à 100%, maple syrup has to be made from 100% pure maple sap water.

Two categories of maple syrup indicate better taste, higher density and no filtering residues. The color and flavor both depend on two things: the quality of the "coulée" (coulée is the amount of sap falling off the tree over a certain amount of time) and the amount of time required for transformation (i.e. boiling).

According to connoisseurs, the lighter it is, the more refined it is, and the better quality and taste it will have. So color is also identified on the package:
• AA = extra light
• A = light
• B = medium
• C = amber
• D = dark

It is preferable to buy maple products in small quantities. Unopened, maple syrup cans or bottles should be kept in a dry, cool place. When open, keep in the refrigerator or freezer. Maple taffy can be kept at room temperature for a few days. Then, it should be put in the freezer. Maple butter can be kept in the refrigerator, in a sealed container.

Old Sayings
• The higher the sugar shack and maple trees are located on the mountain, the sweeter the sap.
• If there are 5 Sundays in February, sugar time will start one month early.

Dates to Remember
Sugar shacks (locally called Sucrerie or Erablière) are expected to be open from the arrival of the first migrating birds and ending with the first bees found in maple sap cannisters. The season spans anywhere between February 15 and May 31.

Places To Go
Sugar shacks abound in the Greater Montreal Area and surrounding regions such as Mont Saint-Hilaire, Rigaud, the Laurentians, Lanaudière, Plessisville, Beauce...

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