Monday, March 19, 2012

Sugar Shack Time!

Throughout the maple syrup regions of Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine there is a tradition of the Sugar Shack: big and small, private and commercial.  Once the sap starts to flow in late winter and families and coops start boiling the sap to make maple syrups, then you see sugar shacks popping up throughout countryside and towns.  Sugar Shacks are simple or fancy, small cabins or large log buildings with one thing in common: great food and maple syrup. There's usually a roaring fire and/or an outdoor fire pit.  And of course, at least for the ones in the countryside, a chance to see how maple syrup is refined from the sap and how to make a maple syrup lollipop (pour syrup on snow/ice....wait until it sets up...put stick in congealing syrup and roll it up...proceed to enjoy)

We decided to come up in March this year with the hopes of hitting sugar shack season.  I called too late to get reservations at Martin Picard's PDC Cabane d' Sucre (so that will be on next year's list) so we decided to take a ride out into the countryside near the Richelieu river and eat at Erabliere Charbonneau in Mont St-Gregoire.

Erabliere Charbonneau is located about 40 minutes from downtown Montreal on the slopes of Mont St Gregoire.  There are maple trees for syrup and extensive apple orchards.  Something for many seasons.  The sugar "shack" is actually a large, multi-roomed, honey colored log building with broad covered verandas.  There is a nice fire pit with swings and benches.  The only problem for our visit?  It was 72 degrees!!  No snow.  No fireplace. But there was still great food and maple syrup.

We sat at a table in a high ceiling room humming with happy voices of happy eaters.  We had:

pickled beets
pickled tomato relish
white bean soup
maple covered sausage
bacon rinds
roasted potatoes
baked beans
meat pies (absolutely yummy)
apple juice
fresh milk
maple sugar pie
All with a BIG carafe of maple syrup

After stuffing ourselves, we walked around the property out to the apple orchards.  Visited the little "barnyard" where there were goats, a very inquisitive llama, and turkeys (apparently Annette is a "turkey whisperer:" because she got the male to "chat" with her.)

We stopped in the "syrup making" building where they were finishing up the last of the syrup for the season.  Apparently the high temps of the last week (and especially of  the past few days) has caused the sap to slow down.  They said the "water" or sap is now cloudy which means it isn't good.  So their work is done for the season. I'm pretty sure they would have hoped for at least a few more weeks.

where they make the maple syrup
Making maple syrup "pops"
We enjoyed our drive to the countryside, we had a very good lunch, and we will try sugar shack again next year. We're just hoping for some snow and cold enough weather to warrant a big fire in the fireplace.

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