the sap is flowing

It can be hit and miss as city folk head to the country in search of traddy cabane à sucre.  I have heard horror stories of people finding themselves in a factory style set up, feeling like they are just another maple-covered cog in the wheel of over-commercialized traditions.  I don’t personally know of any family sized sugar shacks, I have only went to restaurants pretending to be sugar shacks in the city.  Yesterday though, Natasha, my beau and I went all the way to just outside of Quebec City to participate in une vraie cabane à sucre.  I got lucky earlier this month and won tickets to this sugar shack through my favorite weekend radio program, “All in a Weekend.”  Yay, time to rent a car, time for a road trip!

A typical collection of signs that can be found on Quebec highways. This one features a notice that there is a giant tin can disposal in the area. Great!

Once we got through the congestion of city traffic and quickly found ourselves past Trois Rivières, we took the Chemin du Roy.  There are many things to look at along this more leisurely path to Quebec City; fascinating historical homes, curious and strange road signs, dozens of proudly positioned towering churches and the fleuve St. Laurent.  We  lucked out and even found an organic cheese shop, Fromagerie F. X. Pichet at Ste-Anne-De-La-Perade.

youth making good use of the open space

sites along the way of the Chemin du Roy

cabane à sucre!

L’Érablière le Chemin du Roy is just a few minutes south of Quebec City, in St-Augustin-de-Desmaures.  The first thing you notice when you step out of the car is the sound of grand swaying maple trees that surround the site.  I take a deep breath, mmmm, this is just what the doctor ordered!  As we made our way to the building, there are dozens of children sliding on tubes on a small hill of snow in the maple grove.  There are these oddly erect sleds called trottinettes des neige also near the hill.

trottinettes des neiges

Right away, a fellow preparing the snow for the tire sur la neige (maple taffy) greets us with a hearty, “Bonjour!”  We enter the building and another very friendly hostess greets us, too.  I explain who we are and that we have a reservation for 5:30pm and she politely offers that I can speak in English too.  Ah, this darn accent!

Natasha waxed nostalgic over having only ever seen maple sap being harvested on Sesame Street as a child.

She shows us a prime table. We quickly order a pitcher of beer, and then we take turns touring the site.  I noticed people putting a little maple syrup in their beer, so we try it too.  Why not?  Let the maple dosing begin!

fleurbain testing out maple syrupized beer

If I were to describe this cabane à sucre I would say that it is a warm, friendly and festive nod to tradition.  It is well priced and you get a lot for what you pay, which is approximately $25 per person. A wide range of local beers are sold on tap and in bottles, and the host has an accessibly-priced selection of simple wines.  Live music fills the room to accompany the excellent food. Guests are generally organized as large families and are seated at long tables of eight.  We were seated beside a friendly and polite couple with a small daughter.  This couple did not speak a stitch of English, but we were able to get along fine in French.  Well, honestly, our conversation had the usual English-meets-French stammering to it, but we got along great with our neighbours. Nothing brings people together like sharing a table of hearty, home-cooked food.

so many dishes, all so good

The first course is a delicious soupe aux pois avec de pain de ménage et beurre.  Everything is served family style, including the soup in lovely ceramic pots. Our gracious neighbour settles all of us in with the first course of soup.  Right away I relaxed a great deal more.  A good soup means this will be a great meal.  Shortly after the first course, the accordion player starts playing a jig and all the kids break through their shyness and come up to dance a bit. The more observant personalities soaked it all in, carefully watching the magic of the musician.

wonderful food, nourished and warmed the heart

This is one of the sweetest things to see.  As Natasha said, the kids were all really well behaved, perhaps even more so than the children we are accustomed to. What made the difference? The outdoor slide, the soup, the friendly atmosphere, the music? Interesting!

everyone enjoyed the music

Next up is the main course.  It is huge and again, to die for!  The most surprising element for me was the extremely soft custard of eggs called omelette au four (baked omelette).  It is almost like the texture of silken tofu, but the taste is heavenly.  Also curious and fun is the oreilles de crisse, or as Natasha calls them, ‘Jesus’ ears.’

it is up for debate on what these are called... but call them delicious

And, guess what, I found out that I like oreilles des crisse! They are crunchy, salty and addictive.  Another undeniable hit is the pâté à la viande (meat pie).  It was so perfect and tasty.  This is an all you can eat affair, but I kept it to 1 1/2 pieces. The hosts kept coming around with more food, but our first serving was so generous that our table didn’t ask for more. Everything else was great; the including jambon à l’érable, fèves au lard, salade de chou, marinades maison, boiled potatoes and more homemade bread and MORE sirop d’érable.  I thought the meal would be overwhelmingly rich, but at this cabane I feel that it was just right and it was not over done.  It helps that the food was prepared in a homestyle fashion.  It also helps to listen to my own body, I don’t mean that I allow this to be oppressive.   I feel like I should enjoy myself, but I don’t go too crazy.

It takes effort! Nathan is trying to play better than the guy outside of Ogilvy's.

There was plenty of jigging, and everyone took a turn at playing the spoons.  The room became quite loud with the air of celebration.  Everyone was having a good time.  There were people from the country and people who looked to be from the city.  It was a good mix, which made for a real family event. Near the end of the evening, crêpes with maple syrup were served with a round of coffee and tea. And don’t forget the jugs of milk that were being distributed to the tables!  Many people enjoyed a nice glass of milk to finish off the meal. But there was one more elegant phase to this gourmand’s affair.

tire sur la neige

Sticks for the tire sur la neige were handed out.  We rested a bit and then headed outside for the tire!  This was my very first tire sur la neige.  It was amazing!  I felt like a kid again!  🙂

Unfortunately, we had to skip the balade en traîneau à chevaux because it was around 8:oo pm on a Sunday night and we had to make our return to Montreal.  On the way home we tried our best to have an in-car dance party with energy-filled tunes. The vibe of this cabane was irrepressible! I am sure that this aided our digestion and helped us stay awake for the journey to the city.

heading back after a fantastic day

As a final note, I woke up feeling refreshed and energized. The curative wonders of the maple trees worked their effect.

What a great day away!  Thanks All in a Weekend and thanks to L’Érablière le Chemin du Roy!

Tammy Schmidt and Natasha Henderson, Montreal.