April can be miserable in Quebec. The snow is melting into a brown sludge that oozes through the streets. The promise of spring sunshine is often hidden behind a blanket of grey rain clouds. When the temperatures finally rise above zero with the daylight, our false hope of warmth is dashed when the minus temperatures reappear each night. There is however, one very significant upside to these warm days and freezing nights, it comes in the form of … maple water!!
During April, the maple water starts flowing in the maple trees. This is when many Quebec families begin harvesting this liquid treasure, to boil and reduce into maple syrup, maple butter, and maple taffy. With this harvest time comes the joy of “sugaring off”! This odd term refers to the Cabane à sucre (sugar shack) experience. The Cabane à sucre experience is one of indulgence and wonder. Indulgence in traditional cuisine – pea soup, omelette, ham, beans, chutneys, pickles, sugar pie and maple taffy; and wonder at the magic of using wood-fuelled boilers to reduce clear flowing maple water into the liquid gold they call sirop d’érable (maple syrup).
Our French Friday was a French Saturday, as we enjoyed a genuine Cabane à sucre experience with our Québécois friends on their family’s maple farm. We learned about the traditional practices passed down through the generations of their family, and the modern techniques they have merged into these traditions. It was fascinating to watch the family hard at work, monitoring the boiler and stoking the wood-burning stove as our children played together. Not surprisingly, a snowball fight can instantly bridge the gap of language and culture!
We are so grateful for the hospitality of our friends, and their willingness to forgive our fumbling french phrases as they shared with us their family’s cabane à sucre traditions.
À bientôt !