He finally broke. And then after Jordan conceded to rent a car and visit a cabane à sucre, or sugar shack, he somehow became excited about it. It may have had something to do with the fact that our friends Courtney and Momo were joining us and the fact that we were visiting a cabane à sucre that had been recommended by a trusted source.
In case you’re not familiar with the sugar shack concept, it’s an annual celebration of the sugaring-off season for maple trees. The temperatures warm slightly during the day, but are still below freezing at night, causing the sap to flow. Because Quebec produces about 75 percent of the planet’s maple syrup, this is an important time of the year here. Cabanes à sucre are held at maple groves, close to the point of production. The main show is the meal, where maple syrup is the star. Every dish is prepared with at least a little maple syrup. And then drowning it in more maple syrup is encouraged. Many cabanes à sucre also try and ham it up (pun intended, naturally), adding in some traditional folk music, lumberjack attire, and offering sleigh rides, etc. Think logging history. It takes me back a little bit to when Mr. Zirngibl organized our fourth grade class into a lumberjack camp for the morning, flipping pancakes and frying bacon. Of course, I’m sure we weren’t actually eating real maple syrup.
We visited Ferme le Crépuscule for a Saturday evening meal. Ferme le Crépuscule is an organic farm located about an hour and a half northeast of Montreal. All food served is organic, and if you’re on the gluten free train, you can even request a few special items. Admittedly, the prices are a bit higher than your average cabane à sucre (averages between 20-25 dollars, versus the 40 for FLC), but I knew that if I was going to get Jordan to look back on this experience as a good memory, we had to avoid the overtly commercialized choices that herded 350 people into a room and fed said 350 people mediocre food.
The elevated price was worth it for more than a couple reasons. First, the setting was idyllic and authentic. It’s a real working farm, which uses the old school buckets to collect sap and then Jean-Pierre teams up with his horse, Peanut, to collect those. Secondly, the size of group was extremely small–only nine people total! The nine of us were treated to a tour of the farm after the meal. Finally, the food really was good, plentiful, and everything served is organic (Now, I’m not one of those must-eat-everything-organic peeps, but it is nice to know where most things on your plate came from, right?). Although I’ve never been to another cabane à sucre, I am convinced that we went to the real deal. Of course, we confirmed afterward with our friend Jean-Séb, who I consider one of our Quebec cultural consultants.
We arrived before the other group, so I forced people into photos.
We didn’t want to stray too far without express permission before the meal, but I snapped a photo of the cattle for my father-in-law. Unfortunately, the impressively massive bull is hiding a bit in the photo below.
The dining hall itself was quite charming and quaint. There are plans for expansion in the future (it will still be smaller than most places), which made me thankful we made it there this year. The dining hall is heated by a traditional stove that (if my memory and poor French serve me correctly) was rescued from a future as scrap.
The liquid gold:
I blog failed a bit when the meal was served. I should have snapped a few more photos of the food itself, but I didn’t want to be that girl, either. We started out with some steaming reduced maple water. Super delicious. Then we moved on to the bread and pea soup.
The coleslaw, potatoes, homemade ketchup, pickles, and pickled beets came next. Then the fèves au lard. Then a plate of sausage, bacon, ham, and omelettes. Also a bowl of
maple brains eggs cooked in maple syrup, pictured below.
Oh, yeah! And the grillade de lard/oreilles de crisse (literally Christ’s ears)/pork rinds. I’d never tried pork rinds before. In my entire life. Weird, huh? Not sure that these have much to do with the kind you buy in the gas station….
I completely missed photos of Dessert Round 1 (bread smothered in maple butter and cream) and Dessert Round 2 (crepes cooked in boiling syrup…kind of a mix between a crepe and a doughnut).
Post-meal, around 8ish, we headed out on the tour of the farm. We met some chicks.
And some frightening roosters. This is how they will be etched in my memory. Scary, right?!
We also got to meet Peanut.
This is how the chickens looked to most people.
And finally, no cabane à sucre is complete if there is no tire sur la neige, or maple taffy on snow. We lucked out here, as an executive decision was made to pull the snow bar inside, letting us stay warm and cozy while ingesting ungodly amounts of it.
I am not proud to admit that I had four. Trust me, though, that’s on the low end things. That taffy was really flowing. So good!
We left around 10, sufficiently mapled. I do highly recommend the experience.
And I’m not alone. Ferme le Crépuscule was recently featured in a Montreal newspaper, La Presse, as hosting one of the best sugar shack experiences. If you’re interested in the link to the 8 suggestions, read here. Fortunately for us, we visited the same day the article was released, beating the rush. You might notice on the farm’s website, they’re filling up fast.
Escaping the city always does me good, even if it hadn’t been that long since our last escape from the island. Living in a city really makes me appreciate the countryside. And living in Quebec really makes me thankful for maple syrup.