This post was originally published on my previous blog, Peanut Butter & Dill Pickles. I loved it so much, I wanted to share it here too.
I’ve officially added eating at a Canadian sugar shack to my bucket list. Sadly, most of them are a 15 hour drive from my current location.
Sugar shacks are somewhat of an institution in the Quebec. During the harvest time for maple sap (usually February through April), sugar shacks open their doors and dish out amazing comfort food in a communal setting. Given the pomp and pagentry of Thanksgiving and Christmas, the dead season that occurs after the holidays and before spring finally appears can be downright dull. The concept of spending the day in the woods, perhaps on a sleigh ride, learning and watching syrup being made, and sitting down to a hefty meal seems downright divine and the perfect cure for some serious cabin fever. If you’d like to read more, the New York Times has a great article here.
I first learned of these “cabane à sucre” in a fascinating article in Bon Appetit about the gluttonous mad scientist, Martin Picard. The chef at Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal, Martin opened his sugar shack Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon in 2009. His recipes and dishes hint at classic Canadian comfort fare with a twinge of the surreal. Just look up his squirrel sushi or braised beaver. Martin published a companion cookbook to his sugar shack, Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack in 2012 and it’s been on my coveted cookbook list until I finally bought the book a few weeks ago. The book is definitely coffee table worthy and really requires a quiet, snowy day, hot drink, and a curl up on the couch to fully escape in its pages.
Unlike most other cookbooks, Martin’s work has three parts: a short story written about a girl living in a sugar shack in a post-apocalyptic world, a timeline of the workings of the sugar shack and maple production, and finally 100 recipes completely swimming with syrup. It was hard to enter his world and then come back to reality. Elaborate and unusual as some of the recipes may be, the core content of the book is seeping with maple and rich, hearty dishes that would warm any set of smiling cheeks.
After devouring the book, I decided two things:
1. I should’ve purchased the book two years ago when it came out.
2. If I couldn’t get to a sugar shack this year, I was bringing the sugar shack to me.
Since squirrel sushi and braised beaver are a bit outside of my repertoire and ability to source, I decided my only requirement for dipping into the tradition of sugar shacks would stick to their core ingredient; maple syrup.
*Side note: I should mention when I refer to maple syrup, I’m talking about the real, local stuff. Not the corn syrup junk with maple flavoring added. Maple syrup shouldn’t have the consistency of glue. Just sayin’.
I invited my family over for dinner and hoped it would be the modest preview of our future meals at real, true-blue sugar shacks.
Here’s the menu:
Brie with Maple Walnut Topping and Crackers
Roasted Veggies in Maple Bacon Glaze (loosely adapted, I roasted rainbow carrots and Brussels sprouts and tossed in the glaze)
Maple Oat No Knead Bread with Maple Butter
Brown Butter Maple Pecan Chocolate Cookies (take home treat)
The dishes without photos really did exist. My dang camera forgot to get pictures before they were devoured. It’s so hard finding a good camera these days.
No beaver or squirrel but the meal was a success anyway. Despite the word “maple” appearing left and right, the meal really wasn’t overly sweet. True maple syrup adds a little sweetness but also a woodsy, rich quality to the other ingredients.
With my sister, parents, and I all spread out over a couple hundred miles, it was really special to have a big family dinner as we count down the days to them taking off on their next adventure.
On years where I can’t make it to a sugar shack, a maple meal will be on the docket. I love new traditions. My camera has 11 months to get with the program and step up to the plate next time.