According to the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers1, 77% of the world's maple syrup is produced right here, in the province of Quebec. And a sizeable chunk of Quebec's maple products are gobbled up right here, in Montreal. In fact, the province of Quebec consumes more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world. And to anyone who has ever tasted sweet maple sap in its many forms, can you honestly blame us?
Maple Taffy and Snow - The Urban Sugar Shack
Sugaring off is a cultural rite-of-passage in Montreal. A short-lived season that varies every year, somewhere from late February to early May, perhaps the best known activity, apart from visiting a sugar shack2, is eating hot maple taffy on fresh snow. Maple taffy stands start appearing in town around early March near Mont-Royal Metro3 and the Jean-Talon Market4 while urban sugar shacks5 usually get a head start in last week of February. And while they all soothe urgent maple cravings, they also bring up the nostalgia for an authentic sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, experience.
A Traditional Sugar Shack Experience
Let's face it, the real sugaring off happens outside Montreal, in the 200 or so sugar shacks spread over the province of Quebec. From sleigh rides to learning how maple syrup is made to checking out sugar shack mini-farms, there's plenty to do before stuffing up on the pièce de résistance, the all-you-can-eat maple-drenched dinner. Take these nine sugar shacks one hour from Montreal6; they offer everything from a traditional sugar shack experience to bingo nights, steam trains and massage.
For anyone new to Montreal and the very concept of offing sugar, here's a breakdown of what you can expect at your first sugar shack meal (unless you go to madman Martin Picard's Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon7, where you can expect pretty much anything):
- pea soup8
- baked beans in maple syrup
- tourtière9 (if you're lucky)
- country style sausages in maple syrup
- maple smoked ham
- "oreilles de crisse" ("crisse," a truly versatile curse word, translates here into either "damn ears" or "Christ's ears," but they're actually pork rinds)
- oven baked omelettes
- eggs cooked in maple syrup
- sweet pickles
- sugar pie
- pouding chômeur (or "unemployed person's pudding," a deliciously simple cake baked with maple syrup or brown sugar)