19 March 2010


 Its that time of the year.  Its time to go to La Cabane à Sucre.  If there are maple trees that grow where you live threre is a good chance that you know what I'm talking about.  During springtime maple trees leak a wonderful sweet sap that is boiled and then becomes maple syrup. Mmmmm!

Have you ever had maple syrup before? REAL maple syrup, not the Mrs. Butterworth, Aunt Jemima variety of supermarket syrups that pretend to approximate the good stuff. The subtle taste of real maple syrup beats any other sugary concoction you can put on a stack of waffles, pancakes or french toast. And the province of Quebec is the place to go for a veritable maple experience.

Although the state of Vermont and provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick churn out a fair deal of maple syrup, Quebec pumps out 75% of the world’s supply. And as any blind taste test will tell you, La Belle Province does it right. From small, family-run establishments to huge, assembly-line, factory-like productions, cabanes a sucre or sugar shacks, tap into the pure essence of maple trees all over the province.

What began as a collection of humble, subsistence operations has become a vital cog in Quebec’s massive tourism industry. Every schoolchild from Montreal to Quebec City visits a sugar shack as part of a class trip every other spring. The season is a busy one for maple mavens, not only because of the inherent harvest – as the snow and ice melts, tin buckets or plastic pipes fitted to maples trees fill up with sap, of which it takes 40 litres to produce 1 litre of delicious syrup – but also because of the tsunami-like tide of visitors. There is no ritual in Quebec quite so genuine and endemic as the sugar shack experience and maple syrup production.

Although large-scale operations exist in close proximity to Montreal and make all the headlines in tourist brochures, be forewarned: most locals consider them watered-down, fast-food, big-box versions of the real deal sugar shack experience. You can have a great time at these virtual maple-marts, especially if you have a huge brood of children in tow and want a place not too far from downtown Montreal – most have mini-zoos,

horse-drawn sleigh-rides, entertainment and more – but if you’re a true foodie and off-the-beaten-path kind of person, you’ll be disappointed by the springtime crowds.  Obviously, the more remote the sugar shack is,the more genuine it’s likely to be. There are still scores of idyllic, snow-covered sugar shack operations hidden deep in forested regions of Quebec. While it’s certainly not practical for everyone to trek out to the wilderness in search of maple-paradise, more and more international tourists have been game in recent years to explore parts way outside of Montreal and Quebec City

So what makes a good cabane a sucre? For most, it’s all about the food and ambiance. Small, authentic sugar shacks that prepare the Quebec comfort food of old, in cozy, near-backwoods environs. To most Quebecois, these are the hallmarks of cabane a sucre perfection.

Maple syrup is just the tip of the sugar shack iceberg. While the amber ambrosia is most pure in syrup form, it serves as a vital ingredient in Quebecois cuisine as well. Real sugar shack fare is hearty and originates back to a time when winter survival was a serious obstacle. As such, sustenance, especially for rural folk, had to provide rich nourishment.

Thus, in order for a cabane a sucre to qualify as authentic today, it must serve copious amounts of: thick pea soup, homemade baked beans, meat pies or tourtieres, maple-cured ham, oreilles de crisse (fried strips of salt pork fat), omelettes, Quebec beers and wine and maple-sweetened desserts like sugar pie, crepes and “grands-peres” (yeast dumplings or doughnuts poached in maple syrup).

The sumptuous feast must invariably end outdoors with traditional maple taffy, where hot, super-concentrated syrup is poured on a bed of fresh snow and scooped up with wooden sticks. Hopefully you have room left to enjoy this quintessential Quebecois treat, known simply as tire. It’s absolutely critical to the sugar shack experience. And by all means, schedule a dentist appointment soon thereafter.

Here is a collection of pictures of "cabane à sucre".  Some are pictures of the one I went to last week-end.  It's called Cabane à sucre de la Montagne.  Its just 20 minutes from my house. I've also included some historical paintings depicting sugar shacks in 18 and 19th century. Enjoy! 

This is the owner of La Cabane à Sucre de la Montagne. This where I went. It sits at the top of a small mountain. I dont mind walking up knowing I will need all the exercise in the world to burn up calories I am about to ingest.

Turn of the century cabane à sucre. 

Warning:  ingesting large amounts of sugar may give you the need to climb up a roof...

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  1. As I'm rather partial to a drop of maple syrup (I tend to have pancakes with my syrup as opposed to syrup with my pancakes), I think I should at some point plan a trip to Quebec to try out the real stuff, loved this post.

    Hugs RosieP x

  2. Great post!! I'm from upstate NY and remember having REAL maple syrup and candy. YUMMY!!!

    Welcome to the SITS community!

  3. I have not had the joy of trying out Quebec's maple syrup, but I've had the real stuff from Vermont and you're right. Nothing from the shelves of Walmart or Publix even compares. So delicious!
    Welcome to SITS!

  4. mmmmmm! How I love sugaring season! We just had some fresh syrup on our pancakes this morning.

  5. What a fantastic post! I never knew that maple syrup has such an interesting story. I never tryed maple syrup simply because I am not a syrupy kind of girl, but this post made me want to try it!!! :-) Thank you for the wonderful comment in my Blog. Wishing you wonderful sweet weekend!

  6. I Rosie,

    I also have a small sweet tooth LOL. Its so expensive now anyway. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Hi Queenie,

    Thanks for the visit. Maple syrup is a staple in this household. I dont know about its nutritional value over sugar but it does taste great on oatmeal. I tried to go on your blog but it takes me back to July 2009. Is it me or do you have another blog I cant access?

  8. Hi gamommy,

    Once in a while its nice to treat ourselves to the real thing. I have one child that is diabetic so for many years we just had a fake no sugar kind of syrup for her. Tried both kinds: fake and real. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Hi TJ,

    Pancakes, mmmm! My favorite especially now with a dot of butther and some maple syrup. Life does not get any better than that! Thanks for visiting!

  10. Thanks Couture,

    Hope you can come and visit one of those days. I dont suggest you use your moped all the way from New York. Have a great week-end!

  11. I'm ashamed to say that I don't believe I've ever had *real* maple syrup...I guess my West Coast upbringing didn't render it to be that important...but those pictures, especially the tire looks awesome!

  12. Sugar pie! I've never had it, but I so want it.

    Great post.

  13. TDS,

    Get a little bottle and you will be addicted for life...


    I knew that under that paper bag was sugarholic!

  14. Great post!!! I love as we get further north when I see the Cabane à Sucre signs. Another blogger I follow wrote a wonderful post of sugaring in MA this week. She had wonderful photos, too, and wrote a nice description of the process. But you added a lot about the culture, too. Thanks for sharing.

  15. That is so cool -- I want to go! Some day I will get up to Quebec.

  16. Sandy: Thanks and you are welcome!

    Jeannine: Now is a good time for "cabane à sucre! :)

  17. Can you send me an email with YOUR email address in it. I have something I want to share with you.

  18. I really miss having real maple syrup! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Tire is amazing!

    Stopping by from SITS! Welcome.

    Cheers :-)
    - CoconutPalmDesigns

  19. I tried chewing on a maple plank - tasted like crap!

  20. That was such a delightful post! I've never ever tasted *real* maple syrup before!

    And ooh, thanks for the linky love.

  21. Hiya, Visiting via Mama Kats Workshop!
    Love your Blog ...Fab! Very interesting post...I have loved Maple syrup ever since My visit to Canada in the early 80's....Yummy Stuff! x

  22. yum, that was great information :) wow, I never knew all that. Anyway, I commented after you on SITS, so now I'm here, and also following :) Have a great weekend!!!

  23. Hi Coco,

    Tell you what I will trade places with you. I would rather sip on a coconut drink than maple syrup anytime. LOL

    Wreckless, I feel for you. Where you able to extract anything from that plank. If not give me your address and will send you an urgent can of the real thing!

    Brenda, I lived in Sydney in the 90's and I found some in major stores. Its really expensive but if you are lucky enough to find it drizzle it on ice cream. Heaven....

    Welcome to the Syders, Early 80's? Well its time for another visit, dont your think! Thanks for visiting.

    Love you all


  24. I AM SO HUNGRY! Ok, I am inspired to put visiting an authentic sugar shack on my life list. Must. Do.

    I really enjoyed this post, your photos and feel over here. I decided to follow along. Visiting from SITS and happy that I came. Have a lovely day.

  25. What a lovely post! I love maple syrup. You found some real nice photos.
    Fun Playroom

  26. Yum.

    Now I'm hungry. I am a big fan of syrup.

  27. Hi MOMSICLE, I was hungry to after I wrote that post. I went straight to the kitchen and made myself a toast with French bread and butter and dripped that "liquid gold" on top. Mmmmm! Thanks for visiting!

    Hi EMILIA, thanks for the compliment and your visit!

    Hi WHISPERING WRITER, that makes two of us!