Friday, April 29, 2011

A Morning at the Sugar Shack

Tapped trees for sugaring off season.

Springtime habitually stirs Quebecers into a maple syrup frenzy. The land is finally unfreezing here so the maple trees are tapped to allow the sap to drain into buckets set out to capture the sweetness. The stores are stocked with all manner of maple products, including maple sponge candy, maple flakes to sprinkle on everything and walls made from canned maple syrup. 

The sugar shack sign on Mont Rigaud.

The sign marking the Blue Trail.

Entrance to the dining rooms in summer.

At the end of last summer, my husband and I went for a Saturday morning hike along Mont Rigaud. The day was perfect for a picturesque walk since the humidity was on the decline and the morning was cool. After stopping in the local ski center to get a map of the mountain trails we decided on a walk along the Blue Trail. The clerk informed us that this particular trail was on the top of the mountain so we thought we could get a great view of Rigaud from that location. This trail is on the Sucrerie de la Montagne property. There is free parking. Only a handful of cars and a large tour bus were in the lot, but it was the off season.

The barn located near the entrance to the sugar shack.

A mushroom stool carved from the trunk of a tree.

Artifacts decorating the property.

We spent a few minutes checking out the traditional sugar shack. The proprietor was very friendly and helpful. He quickly acknowledged us and asked us to let him know if we needed or wanted to see anything. I will admit to being easily impressed with hospitable folks due to the frequency of abrupt dispositions so prevalent these days.

After starting on the trail we soon learned that there were no panoramic views of the town below so this was a bit of a disappointment. It was a good trail nonetheless. The first part is very shady and the path is lined with interesting berries that I insisted on sampling. My husband was afraid that I was going to poison myself. I have concluded that nature does not produce sweet fruits that poison people, but just in case I only tried one of each and only ones that were somewhat recognizable.

Tasted like raspberries.

A friendly grasshopper.
 
My tour guide.

My walk was guided by butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies, while my husband was basically fighting for his life due to a tiny, unrelenting bee. The first part of the trail is downhill then it extends into a long, wide path without benefit of shade, but it was very pleasant aside from the bees and mosquitoes thriving in the sunlight. We eventually decided to return to the car because of that damn bee. At the time we made a mental note to return during the traditional Quebec sugaring-off season in the spring.

Down the shaded part of the Blue Trail.

The canopy over the initial path of the Blue trail.

Several weekends ago we made it back to the sugar shack with my in-laws. The Sucrerie de la Montagne on the top of Mont Rigaud is open all-year round, but the highlight is during the maple syrup production time. This annual event includes a horse drawn wagon ride, maple taffy, touring the production areas and an all you can eat traditional meal served family-style while a live band plays in the background.

Boiling the sap to make maple syrup.
 
A house on the property.

The delicious sugaring-off feast, which is also available year round, includes local specialities such as pea soup, ham, sausages, fried pork rinds, meatballs, an omelette soufflé, baked beans, mashed potatoes, tourtière, a meat pie, served with tomato relish, pickled beets and crisp cucumber pickles. To finish there is maple sugar pie and small pancakes with syrup. The pea soup, tourtière with tomato relish, pickled cucumbers and the maple sugar pie are especially crave-worthy at this sugar shack.

Pickles, tomato relish and beets.

Maple sugar pie.
 
Maple syrup for the table.

We are definitely looking forward to a return, but for now I will be sorting out recipes for pickles, tomato relish and tourtière - and some bug spray for walking along that beautiful mountaintop trail again.

Sucrerie de la Montagne
300 Chemin Saint Georges
Rigaud, Quebec J0P 1P0

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