The Far-West (and How to get Maple Syrup)

Saint-Ubalde Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 27 › view all entries
Overview on the village
Saint-Ubalde is a tiny rural village situated at the western extremety of Portneuf County, which makes it a far west point to reach for me both in km and in time. It bears similarities with St-Léonard by its location (not along a river) and just by the Laurentians piedmont (though the soil is more fertile and vast in that area).

The main crop is the potatoe... so in some point the road is surrounded by vast potatoe field and they produce so much that the local farmer (basically who owns thousands of acres of farmland) is horribly rich, their potatoes are the one you find in well known brand such as Lays and Pringle (Maybe even McCain, though that company is the proud of Prince Edward Island).

For me though, one funny sight is that a millionnaire farmer does not necesserily become a tasteful bright with art and choices, his 'mansion' is the most horrible and kitsch thing I have ever seen.
The church Spire coming off the landscape
Just basically imagine a 'Californian Bungalow' style house... enlarged many time, surrounded by a pseudo faky medieval wall and annexed medieval castle tower... all built with the materials you use to build a cheap pre-manufactured bungalow. Luckely it is far away from the village centre (he can afford a huge dodge RAM to travel around) so this quite tiny settlement does remain intact in its historical feature.

Despite this singularities of development, the remaining of the territory is lovely, it is pretty green even with hills covered by maple tree farms and surrounded by fields which does remains green.

The village downtown is a traditionnal settlement of canadian colonisation architecture built around the church and can be seen from distance, that is quite the nice sight.
Grazing land landscape
There is also the Lac Blanc, which is a lovely blue lake just north of the village and has a public beach and camping with some resort features. The rest of the municipality territory consists of rural country road where you can drive and enjoy the traditionnal view on a typical house from a dusty road. I personnaly love it.

About the maple farm, yes the famous sugar-maple tree which is the great emblem of our flag. It does produce lovely products and the most famous of it is the maple syrup. Maple woodlands are protected features, both because they are an economical element but also because the maple is a noble species and local landmark.
About the maple farm... or commonly called the sugar shack (Cabane à Sucre), basically everyone having a maple tree on their land can simply exploit it for his own purpose and that is usually what most people do.
Typical dusty rural road
In nearly every family someone owns a land where there is a high enough density of maple tree to invest a bit on the equipment and build a sugar shack. Why does it remains a purely family element? Well the sap from the maple tree only flow a few days up to a few weeks a year, so it is not a all year round business and for that reason it has remained pretty much traditionnal in its way of exploiting and managing it. The sap flows in the early spring when the tree core starts to defrost during the day but still remains frozen during the night, so it varies pretty much on what sort of temperature there will be. Some years can be plentiful others disastrous and this can happen quite suddenly. Usually March up until April (before Easter) are the weeks where the 'Sugar Season' hit, so the people who owns a maple farm usually takes days off their regular job to go live in the shack in the forest to ensure the smooth functionning of the devices and do the treatment of the maple sap.
Reflection on the Lac-Blanc
.. which is called 'Maple Water' (Eau d'Érable).

Basically, when the heat hit and the sap starts to flow, simply making a hole in the maple tree will make the sap dripple out. That is how you collect it, traditionally people were simply putting a drain and bucket and collecting it from the tree then passing once a day with the horses and a sleigh (might I remind that you are still walking a snow here!) to empty the bucket. Now the technology has eased that process and tube are connected to every trees and drain the sap directly into the shack. In the shack it falls into a reservoir where it is quickly filtered (as tree bark or frozen bit also end up there) and brought into a giant boiler. The Maple sap can be drink immediately and every single tree taste different, which is always nice to do.
Churchyard - St-Ubalde ((c)MRC de Portneuf)
Basically it is a natural sweet water, though at this level it is also a natural laxative.
By boiling the sap, you change its consistence and it gradually becomes thicker to the point of thickness of syrup.
According to the point of thickness and the quality of the maple sap harvest that year, Maple Syrup is graded just as wine can be between Grade A up to Grade D. This is based on the texture, taste and colour of the syrup. Grade A maple syrup is a pure golden syrup, which texture is thin and more liquid with a great sweet taste without being too coarsed. It is such a refined syrup that you could drink it up. You will never see Grade A or B on international market as it is purely kept for national use.
The Maple Syrup you are more likely to find on shelves in France, United Kingdom or other foreign supermarket will be Grade C or usually Grade D, those are having a more brownish, thicker and bitter sweet taste. Though still lovely maple syrup, they are the categories that are used for 'Industrial purposes' back home (basically to manufacture sugar and other derivate from the maple syrup).
So as the maple industry is purely family owned, every family always get their reserve from their own family member or from a known person in a village. For that reason, you will never see a canadian buy maple syrup in the local supermarket chain as they seem to dislike the fact of not knowing its place of origin and knows it will never be better than Grade C. Also, Maple Syrup being a purely Canadian product and tradition AND usually coming directly from the family, canadians will always be keen on offering a Maple Syrup can (yes it does not come in fancy package but in a raw 500ml can) to a foreign guest.

Maple Syrup is not the only product that can be done at the farm, with longer process of the sap you can reach all different level of sugary scale through Soft-Sweet Maple Sugar (a spread - Sucre Mou), Maple Butter (Beurre d'Érable), Raw Maple Sugar (Sucre d'Érable) and Maple Toffy (Tire d'Érable). That last product is best directly consumed at the farm and something that canadian children await to do once a year. The toffy is directly extracted hot from the boiler when re
ady and brought outside where a snow table (a table covered with fresh clean white snow or snow shape as a table) awaits. The still hot-boiling toffy is poured in long lines directly on the snow where it freezes instantly and people can then collect it with a spoon or a wooden stick and lick it up.

The stock of maple syrup is sold every year to a single buyer, which is the government and the only one allowed to manufacture the product at other level (hence that it is badly marketed abroad). So that government entity buys the production of all independant farmer and collect it into a storehouse, market it abroad and also act as an intermediary for the companies who would by the product to make other product.
Yes, because plenty of products are made from the maple syrup (mainly here for the tourist boutics) and that is where the 'industrial purposes' Grade come handy. Candies and other funny shape products are made by companies making their money by transfering the syrup into funny shape bottles with only 100ml etc...
But also, wine producers are making the Maple alcohol... though I have no idea of how it is processed.

What do we use maple syrup for/with.
It is basically a sweetener or a topping to other products. No sane canadian would eat its pancakes without its good dosis of maple syrup over the top. So you can pour it on ice cream, waffels, oatmeal, cakes etc... But it is also the basis for many canadian recipe for cakes and mousse.

Hope you enjoyed that educative intermezzo, from St-Ubalde southward the landscape leave the Laurentian Piedmont behind (which will always stay a sight at the background marking the end of the horizon) to enter what we call the great western plain (in Portneuf County). The great western plain is a gradually levelled plain coveres by clay and going down by successive step to the St-Lawrence shore. More information about the formation of this landscape in the next destination: The tiny settlement of St-Thuribe.

(For more thing about Maple Syrup: )
A day I spent at my uncle maple shack, I will put some photos later.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Overview on the village
Overview on the village
The church Spire coming off the la…
The church Spire coming off the l…
Grazing land landscape
Grazing land landscape
Typical dusty rural road
Typical dusty rural road
Reflection on the Lac-Blanc
Reflection on the Lac-Blanc
Churchyard - St-Ubalde  ((c)MRC de…
Churchyard - St-Ubalde ((c)MRC d…
photo by: maplefanta