International Writers Magazine:
Night on Sugar Mountain
Eric D. Lehman
the biggest huskie Ive ever seen," I exclaimed as the
huge white beast bounded up and licked my hand. Amy agreed, and
we petted the furry monster as we tramped through the snow to the
front door of the Sucrerie de la Montagne, an hour outside Montreal.
We had driven across the bridges of the St. Lawrence Seaway and
headed up into the empty hills near the border of Ontario, where
we planned to stay the night and sample some of the famous, traditionally
Quebecois meals and revel in the maple sugar ambiance.
The Sucrerie de la Montagne, or sugar-shack of the mountain,
was the dream-turned-reality of Pierre Faucher, once a businessman
in the big city, now the bearded proprietor of this collection of
authentically built cabins and lodges. We had seen the place on
Anthony Bourdains television show, No Reservations,
and I had surprised my fiancée, Amy, with this visit. Of
course, Bourdains ever-present fear of the "wilderness"
manifested itself as a portrayal of Pierre as something of an eccentric,
and the famed cook and travel writers visit had been humorous
rather than sublime.
of leaving the everyday world and building his dream from nothing to
a successful restaurant and tourist destination was indeed eccentric.
But for Amy and I this bold decision was also the epitome of courage.
The "huskie" who had greeted us turned out to be mostly wolf,
a mere one-year-old named Lulu who was not yet full grown. She flopped
on the floor as Stefan, Pierres son, gave us the lowdown on our
accommodations and meals. "The cabin youll be staying in
has foundations two hundred and fifty years old, the first one my father
rebuilt. I used to stay in it as a little boy." He was leaving
the next day for his honeymoon, a short break from helping his father
run the Sucrerie.
Our cabin, the Maisonette du Sous-bois, was by an old lumber mill, near
the field where Pierres horses played. It had a huge stone fireplace,
wood rocking chairs, and love seats draped in animal furs. Modern conveniences
were charmingly hidden by huge wooden beams and dark wood. A staircase
led up to a loft, where our bed and a small claw-footed tub waited.
A door that we thought led to the outside actually led into a wood-paneled
bathroom, warm and comfortable despite the January temperatures.
Once we had settled into the cabin, the time had arrived for our real
goal, the food. We walked past the other cabins, a "general store,"
and the bakery to the main lodge. Since we were only one of two couples
dining that weeknight during the off-season, a table had been prepared
for us in the smaller dining room, in front of a roaring fire. The other
dining room was enormous, with a stage for traditional Quebecois musicians,
and a dance floor in the center. Holiday decorations hung on the walls,
and Stefan told us that a week before, on New Years, the restaurant
had hosted several hundred guests. During maple sugaring season, some
thirty to forty thousand people visited, to witness the process and
sample the fresh syrup. I had tapped a few trees and boiled some maple
sap in my time, and though I wanted to experience it again, I was glad
for the snowy silence and the personal attention from Stefan and Pierre.
Pierre did indeed appear at this point, cooking dinner for us himself,
and serving us dish after dish of authentic cuisine with a booming laugh.
We began with "caribou," a drink that had once been made by
trappers who combined caribou blood and moonshine. No one really did
this anymore, and each family instead had their own recipe. Pierres
take on it included red and white wines, blueberry wine, and sweet whiskey.
The combination sounded daunting, but turned out to be one of the best
mixed drinks Ive ever had sweet and light, with barely
a taste of the serious alcohol content. Amy and I sipped our way through
several glasses each, never tiring of our new favorite beverage.
At our table we had fruit ketchup, sweet pickles, and pickled beets,
along with a gigantic bottle of homemade maple syrup, which we poured
liberally on everything. Pierre brought us salted pork, hearth-baked
fresh bread, and white pea soup, all delicious. Our main courses included
Canadian bacon, beans, meatballs, soufflé, sausage links, mashed
potatoes with garlic, and traditional meat pies. Everything was drenched
in the magnificent maple syrup and the delightful fruit ketchup. The
portions were reasonable, but the number of dishes packed our stomachs
to the limit. Lulu offered to help us clean our plates, and we finished
with tea, while Pierre warned us "If a bear scratches on your door,
just tell him you know me," and laughed his mighty, booming laugh.
Back at the Maisonette du Sous-bois, so stuffed I could barely lift
the logs, I built a fire with birch and French newspapers, and Amy and
I finished the night reading by the soothing flames.
Breakfast the next morning was just as substantial, and though we were
still recovering from last nights feast, we ate every bite, drinking
hot coffee and talking to a local Native American who was there selling
his homemade necklaces. Then, Pierre shepherded us to the general store,
where we stocked up on the divine syrup. We wished Stefan an excellent
honeymoon, and accompanied by Lulu, walked hand-in-hand past the shaggy
horses and back to the mundane world, wishing that magical places like
the Sucrerie de la Montagne were the reality of our everyday lives,
and that we all had the courage of Pierre Faucher to create castles
in the air, or at least sucreries in the mountains of Quebec.
Make your reservation here
Lehman April 2008
Professor Lehman lectures in creative writing at Bridgeport College,
Conn and writes regularly on walking tours of the USA
for a rainy day
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Why keep the name of that town a secret?The reason is that
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