Nature is awakening
Mid-March in Québec normally signals the first stirrings of spring—a moment of great excitement! The days get longer, the sun feels warmer and the snow begins to melt. Returning from their winter migration, the snow geese form immense white Vs against the azure skies. In the city, the ever-popular Bixis and food trucks set up for another season while the outdoor patios fill with happy patrons. Spring is a time of renewal when just about anything goes!
As freeze turns to thaw, the sap starts to rise in the maple trees. Following Amerindian custom, the first settlers learned to tap the sugar maple and boil its sweet water down to a thick syrup prized for its flavour, colour and clarity. This seasonal ritual is now at the basis of a thriving industry and flourishing cuisine.
Before it can be processed, the sap is collected drop by drop through spouts inserted into the trees. Syrup producers of old would hang pails from these spouts, emptying their contents regularly into horse-drawn barrels. Times have changed and today many sugar bushes use a network of tubes connected to a pump that carry the sap to an evaporator. It takes roughly 40 litres of sap to produce one litre of pure syrup!
Each spring, Québec’s sugar shacks, most of which are close to the urban centres, lay on their annual feast—an experience popular among families and groups, not the least for its copious quantities of traditional home cooking. On the menu: baked beans, omelettes, ham, tourtière (meat and pork pie), oreilles de crisse (crisp salt fried pork) and a scrumptious selection of maple desserts, including the famous tire—hot taffy poured on snow and then pulled on a stick before it hardens. While you’re there, don’t pass up a sleigh ride through the underbrush! Some sugar shacks are open to the public year-round; maple products, in turn, can be purchased in food stores at any time.
What we love about spring
Québec is the world’s largest exporter of maple products. These are sold in close to 50 countries, with the United States, Germany and Japan leading the way.