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Jan 31, 2010 09:08 PM

Sugaring Off / Cabanes à Sucre [split from Quebec board]

Wow; this all sounds amazing, if confusing. I saw the link to a 'typical' one of these places. Can someone explain -- is this all about a sugaring operation opening up shop to basically sell the new batch of maple syrup? I've never heard of anything like this in the States. This must be seasonal then, say, March - May?

Is there a traditional one of these places nearby to Mtl?

BTW, while I'm sure this is well-known, butter is added in little dollops, traditionally at least, to the boiling sap if it threatens to boil over. Maybe a batch on the table that tasted buttery was just especially misbehaved? It's seems beyond-bizarre to be twisting this tradition to the point of serving non-pure syrup. I'm guessing instead this *was* a buttery pitcher of maple syrup, as per protocol.

Also, I just have to say, the vicious dig into vegetarians/ism was a little over-the-top -- I'd like to drop a dollop of butter into that thought. Some of us happen to find vegetables tastier than meat. Some of us cannot eat the fat in meat. Some of us have moral scruples that preclude eating meat ... etc. I don't quite get why this raises hackles so.

That said, do these operations ever include meatless dishes (apart from, say, sugar pie?)

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  1. (this will probably be split into another thread)

    Sugar "Shack-ing" is a seasonal event, mostly in march and april (+/- coupe of weeks before and after depending on the weather and temperature), and it's at its best when there is still snow on the ground when the nights are cold and the days are warm; it's the temperature variation that makes the flow of the maple sap move.

    Historically, sugar shack openned their doors to family and friends (before it became a commercial endevour) to celebrate the "making" of the syrup, like a spring thanks-giving; and in the shacks, there was the large boiler and people would simply eat traditional food (ham, beans, "pain dans le syrop", pea soup) while the sugar master prepared the syrup batches.

    I've never heard of putting butter in the syrup, me think that would ont be a good thing for long term conservation (syrup has a long shelf life).

    As for vegetarism (and all its variations), Sugar Shack food IS NOT VEGETARIAN and should not be vegetarian,NEVER even the most "vege" food like the baked beans and pea soup should have some meat in it (either in the broth or fat or simple pieces of ham); remember that this is at the end of winter and historically, there are not a lot of vegetable available at that time of the year (mostly potatoes, carrots, dried beans, apple...)

    i'm certain that there are some sugar shacks that want to cater to everyone tastes (either moral, religious, cultural, ...) I think it's kind of silly and that water-down the sugar shack experience (don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with maple syrup spring rolls!); but, on the other hand, people believe that the whole experience of going out in the woods and spend a day outside with friends and family and eating "whatever" after that is more important than the food itself.

    Looking for traditional sugar shacks, I think it has been asked regulary each spring, just search for it (I'm no expert on that sorry).


    3 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien

      Never heard of the butter thing. But when I was a kid in grade school, I read a story about a boy who saved an evaporator from boiling over by adding a small amount of cream to it's contents. So the butter sort of makes sense. But I'm from Vermont. The sugar shacks near me just offer maple soft serve and sugar on snow (tire d'érable). They don't do the big meal, nor the music and dancing. So what do I know?

      Aliris, you've wandered into a cultural mine field. Tread lightly. ;-)

      1. re: rcianci

        it probably saved the current batch for maple candies, but surely not for maple syrup.

        1. re: Maximilien

          You are probably right. Even with the whey boiled away and the milk solids caramelized, you would expect the butterfat to eventually go rancid and render the syrup unfit for long term storage. In the story, the boy "saves the syrup" and becomes a hero to his family. But it's just a story that I read as a kid. I've never actually seen this done. But now I'm curious. I know some of the guys who work the sugar shacks around here. Next time I run into one of them, I'll ask about the cream/butter thing.

    2. Never heard of putting butter in syrup. Seeing as you're a Yank who's never even heard of sugar shacks, I think you're dead wrong on that, frankly, unless that's another thing you've managed to mess up.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. The original comment has been removed
          1. Although it is a departure from tradition, many Cabanes do offer vegetarian offerings. Every year, I go with almost 100 children and staff from my daycare... some of whom do not eat meat (or simply pork for some) for various reasons. We always go to La Goudrelle and they graciously substitute beans with no meat, and eggs, potatoes and desserts cooked in vegetable oil.

            True, food-wise it is not traditional, but it allows everyone to partake of the experience.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Andria

              Thanks, Andria. Partaking of the the experience for everyone sounds just lovely! I will look up La Goudrelle. I'm excited! There is very little in life I like quite so much as syrup. Very, very little..... :)!!

              1. re: Andria

                La Gourelle is the go to place for groups. It's nice enough for a field trip and large gatherings, but it is a commercial operation. They only stick to the traditional pars they see fit to make it "historically accurate".
                They are not the mom 'n pop place that uses lard and pork fat in everything.

                I make food for about 100 people at a Cabane a Sucre held in LA by some Quebecois expats. I go traditional all the way, takes longer but tastes better.

                And the butter in the syrup is used ONLY when you try to make maple taffee(tire sur la neige) at home so it doesn't overboil and cools it down faster so it doesn't burn. The cabane a sucre don't do that.

                1. re: GenevieveCa

                  Are you writing from LA, then? It sounds as if you now live there?

                  1. re: aliris

                    Yes i am now in Los Angeles and quite surprised at the amount of interest here in the culture i grew up with all my life.

                    1. re: GenevieveCa

                      I've been curious about this butter-question. I know we threw it into the evaporating pan while making syrup, not taffee, and it wasn't at home! I'm told by one lady from the townships that she remembers seeing strips of bacon fat hanging by the evaporators to dip in to keep the bubbles down. Another gentleman tells me they use a ring of fat right around the top of modern boilers. Another I spoke with confirms my memory of just tossing in a small bit of butter ... it seems there are different ways of dealing with the syrup bubbles perhaps?

                      1. re: aliris

                        Most places didn't use butter, if they had to use anything it would be the fatback left over from slicing the salted pork for the Oreilles de crisse.
                        The fat coats the surface of the boiling maple syrup, so when it boils, it doesn't overflow by crystalizing too much too quick.
                        If you throw in some baking soda it creates "seafoam" that hardens and then you can dip it in chocolate. Search for correct measurements or be prepared to scour your stovetop!