When most people think of Canada, they omit the Quebecois culture. Here, we look at one major aspect of traditional Quebecois culture: the traditional Quebecois sugar shacks. We also include a couple of fun recipes to do with the kids below: tire la neige and maple syrup pie.
Mainstream Canadian culture and Quebecois culture are distinctly different. There’s so much perceived difference that in fact, there’s been a strong separatist movement since the 1960s. The Quebecois separatist movement claims a few main reasons for this. First, their unique culture and French language heritage is threatened to be subsumed by the rest of Canada’s anglophone culture. 95% of Quebecois speak French and French is the mother tongue for about 81% of the population. Second, Quebec should be independent by virtue of New France having been conquered by the British in 1763 and subsequently relinquished to the British in exchange for Guadeloupe. It argues that the people of Quebec are the descendants of a conquered people who are due their national sovereignty like any other formerly colonized country.
Quebec and Maple Syrup
The Separatist movements popularity has come and gone over the years but Quebecois continue to celebrate their unique heritage and culture with pride. One of the most delicious demonstrations of that comes each early spring during a time known as the “sugaring off.” Collecting maple syrup!
Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup collecting about 70% of total global production and 90% of the syrup comes from Quebec. This strong and tasty tradition is such a celebrated part of its heritage that it’s on the Canadian Flag! The flag is even sometimes referred to as “The Maple Leaf” or “l’Unifolié.”
Traditional Quebecois Sugar Shacks
Each late spring while the snow is still on the ground, temperatures consistently dip below freezing during the night and above freezing during the day causing the sap in maple trees to “run” or build up pressure in the tree causing the sap to flow from the tap holes. The sap is collected, boiled and reduced and integrated into a multitude of traditional Quebecois dishes. First Nation peoples were the first to tap maple trees and make maple sugar. Eventually, when the French came to indigenous land, they learned how to make maple syrup and the rest is history.
Since then, each late winter in the sugar bush what was originally a primarily family activity of producing maple syrup is now a largely commercial enterprise but that doesn’t slow down any traditional sugar shack celebrations. Visit one of the many traditional Quebecois sugar shacks during the sugaring off and you’ll probably be greeted by lively traditional Quebecois music, outdoor activities such as sleigh riding, watching maple syrup being made and an absolutely endless stream of maple laden foods such as bacon, ham, eggs, pancakes, maple baked beans, tourtière and even more maple specific items such as maple syrup pie, tarte au sucre, or even pouding chômeur. Kids especially also love to “tire la neige”- watching freshly packed snow drizzled with boiled and reduced maple syrup, they delight in taking their small wooden sticks and rolling it up to create an almost taffy like maple candy.
Do you like maple syrup? If so, you can first thank Native American and First Nation peoples such as the Abenaki, Iroquois, and Micmac for discovering and sharing their knowledge of this delicious sugar and secondly thank the Quebecois for sharing the production and the tradition of this delicious syrup with the rest of the hungry world.
Here are the recipes for two beloved Quebecois traditional treats. “Tire la Neige” makes an amazing snow day activity with kids! Check your local area for tree tapping and maple syrup producing demonstrations!
Tire la Neige -Maple Taffy
Maple syrup — 1 quart
Fresh, clean snow — a good amount
Bring the maple syrup to a boil in a large saucepan and simmer until it reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer. Pour in a thin stream over clean snow. Let set for a moment to begin to harden. Roll up on a clean stick and eat.
Maple Syrup Pie- Tarte au Sirop d’Érable
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (preferably dark amber-grade B)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of salt
Accompaniment: crème fraîche or unsweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough into an 11-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin and fit into an 8-inch (3-cup) glass pie plate. Trim excess dough and crimp edges decoratively. Whisk together brown sugar and eggs until creamy. Add cream, syrup, and butter, then whisk until smooth. Then, pour filling into pie shell. Bake pie in lower third of oven until pastry is golden and filling is puffed and looks dry but still trembles, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a rack to room temperature (filling will set as pie cools).
Planning to travel to Quebec? We have our top 5 things to do with kids.
About the author: Alexandria Scott is a writer, educator and community advocate who helps readers better connect students and educators as well as children and parents to access and internalize multicultural and anti-bias education.