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Sugaring Off in Montreal: The Maple Syrup Basics

Montreal Likes Maple Syrup... And Sugar Shacks

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sugar shacks maple syrup montreal evelyn reid cabanes a sucre quebec

Maple syrup season in Montreal, better known as "sugaring off," lasts from late February through April, sometimes until early May, weather-permitting. Above: About.com's Evelyn Reid soothing her maple craving.

Photo © Clint Lewis
Written by Evelyn Reid - According to the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers, 77% of the world's maple syrup is produced right here, in the province of Quebec's cabanes à sucre. And a sizeable chunk of Quebec's maple products are gobbled up right here, in Montreal. In fact, the province of Quebec consumes more maple products per capita than anywhere else in the world. And to anyone who has ever tasted sweet maple sap in its many forms, can you honestly blame us?

Cabane à Sucre Option #1: The Montreal Urban Sugar Shack
Sugaring off is a cultural rite-of-passage in Montreal. A short-lived season that varies every year, somewhere from late February to early May, perhaps the best known activity, apart from visiting a sugar shack, is eating hot maple taffy on fresh snow. Maple taffy stands start appearing in town around early March near Mont-Royal Metro station and the Jean-Talon Market while urban sugar shacks usually kick off their season in March, sometimes April. And while they all soothe urgent maple cravings, they also bring up the nostalgia for an authentic sugar shack, or cabane à sucre, experience.
Montreal Urban Sugar Shacks to Check Out

Cabane à Sucre Option #2: The Traditional Sugar Shack Experience
But let's face it. The real sugaring off happens outside Montreal, in the 200 or so sugar shacks spread out across the province of Quebec. From sleigh rides to learning how maple syrup is made to checking out sugar shack mini-farms, there's plenty to do before stuffing up on the pièce de résistance, the all-you-can-eat maple-drenched dinner. For example, take what I consider the most interesting sugar shacks one hour from Montreal. They propose activities as varied as massages, cross country skiing, pony rides and line dancing.
Nine Traditional Sugar Shacks Near Montreal

The Sugar Shack Meal
So locals know what to expect already. But for anyone new to Montreal and the very concept of offing sugar, here's a breakdown of what you can expect at your first sugar shack meal (unless you go to madman Martin Picard's Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon, where you can expect pretty much anything):

  • pea soup
  • baked beans in maple syrup
  • tourtière (if you're lucky)
  • country style sausages in maple syrup
  • maple smoked ham
  • "oreilles de crisse" ("crisse," a truly versatile Quebec swear word, translates into either "damn ears" or "Christ's ears," but they're actually pork rinds)
  • oven baked omelettes
  • eggs cooked in maple syrup
  • potatoes
  • cretons
  • sweet pickles
  • pancakes
  • sugar pie
  • pouding chômeur (or "unemployed person's pudding," a deliciously simple cake baked with maple syrup or brown sugar)

Next: Nine Sugar Shack Picks Within One Hour of Montreal

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