Primitive Wood-Curving showing an old fashioned Sugaring Off
I’ve done sugaring off many many times – and my absolute favorite place is Festin de Campagne & La Cidrerie du Petit Saint-Joseph.
First – an explanation for my non-Quebec Followers. Sugaring Off is a Spring Time ritual here in Quebec. The sap starts to run up and down (up during the day – down at night when it gets cold) in the Maple Trees. People with Maple Stands tap the trees (literally a tap goes into the tree – and when the sap goes up and down – it also flows out the tap either into a bucket (very old-fashioned) or into blue tubes that have a bit of suction in them), gather the sap, boil it down for days – and bingo – Maple Syrup.
Given that 75% or more of the world’s Maple Syrup is produced here in Quebec – you can imagine the vast numbers of trees, taps, and blue hose involved. It’s quite the sight. But that’s not Sugaring Off. As part of the taping, gathering, and boiling tradition – there’s an eating tradition – and that’s Sugaring Off.
Festin de Campagne – despite the fancy name – is one of the traditional cabins snuggled right in a Maple Stand. It’s used only for about a month a year – small, cozy, clearly built by the family, and lacking in any pretension. There’s no petting zoo, no buffet line, no polish. But there is an awesome group of performers – La Famille Laporte – who are completely irresistible – music that you absolutely must dance to. And the food – ah, it’s really about the food.
The meal starts with everyone sitting down on long family style tables – pre-laden with jars of homemade pickles, pickled beets, Coleslaw, and homemade Ketchup. There’s a quart jar of maple syrup per group of 6 – a bottle of fresh milk, and a jug of water. Quickly you get served your choice of vegetable or pea soup – my entire family opted for the pea soup – homemade (like everything else) – with pieces of lard floating among the peas. I added maple syrup – it was delicious.
Next comes the pate – maple syrup infused of course, with fresh bread.
Now the best part – the omelet, ham slices, baked beans, boiled potatoes and my personal – I wait all year to eat these – Grillades de lard or more familiarly called – Oreilles de crisse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oreilles_de_crisse). Deep fried pieces of pork jowls – amazingly delicious – and eaten with more maple syrup of course. A quick word about the omelet – I’ve had flat omelets, I’ve had puffy omelets, I’ve had omelets cooked by celebrated chefs, I’ve had omelets made at home – but this omelet is the best I’ve ever eaten. Maybe you can blame the maple syrup – but it’s the puffiest, softest, pillow of an omelet made from eggs you can imagine came from chickens running around on the farm next door. I’m serious – this is one great omelet.
Did I tell you this is all ‘eat all you want’? I meant to mention that. Want 2nd, want thirds – no problems!
Dessert is a choice of Pudding Chômeur (it’s sweet), Apple Crumble (it’s sweet), or Pancakes (guess what – you add more maple syrup to them too!). You can have one of each if you’d like – or do like my Grand-daughter – just focus on the pancakes!
Then – there’s the Tire. And the dancing. I’m a fan of both – so first I dance to the wonderful music of ‘La Famille Laporte’ till my feet hurt, then I go outside where they are pouring hot maple syrup onto Snow. You stick a Popsicle stick in the rapidly cooling syrup, and twist to make your own lollipop. I had 4. I didn’t count how many my grand-daughters enjoyed – but I know they went down the line more than I did. These ‘lollipops’ are sweet, soft, crunchy, a little warm, a little cold – and completely irresistible.
Eventually you either ride the tractor drawn wagon back to your car – or walk. In our case – we walked slowly – making snow angels as we found our way back to our car – and eventually back to Montreal.
Interesting is trying La Festin de Campagne? You can reach them by phone at 450-623-0687, or try this link:
It’s no more than a 45 minute drive North West of Montreal – and for a place so ‘back-woods’, relatively easy to find. Be sure to say hello to Simard Paquette for me – she’s the hostess who makes up for her lack of height with a huge smile, and a warm welcome. Can’t miss her!