As we get into March, we are once again entering one of the most beloved times of year in Quebec: sugar season. With the pandemic beginning at the start of last year’s season, there has been a significant lack of maple goodness in the Valley recently. Thankfully, many of the Valley’s staple locations will be open this year, with some slightly new approaches to the season.
Jamieson Maple is celebrating its fourth year open as a full sugar shack, though the family has been producing maple syrup for over 40 years. In normal sugar-shack years, they offer breakfast buffets on weekends, along with baked goods and maple treats: the classic sugar shack experience that most Quebecers know and love. They describe their place as “family-oriented traditional. You won’t find anything fancy. It’s tiny and cozy, our menu is very simple, traditional brunch items: fluffy buttermilk pancakes, maple smoked bacon, country ham, eggs, etc. We focus on quality over quantity.”
However, the past couple of years have not been normal years. Like many local businesses, Jamieson Maple has taken a hard hit these past two seasons. Last year, they had to shut down their brunches, and relied solely on their syrup production. Stacey Ouimet, who runs the sugar shack with her brother Justin Jamieson, explains: “The pandemic didn’t stop sap from flowing, so we still produced syrup; but the closure of the restaurant side definitely saw a loss, one that pinched enough to hurt. It was our third season open and things were really starting to flow in the way of our brunches being sold out mostly every weekend.” This year they will be opening their restaurant, but in a new way.
Throughout the months of March and April, certain Sundays at Jamieson’s will be devoted to serving takeout brunches. There will be a limited number of plates available and they must be reserved at least 24 hours in advance. This is a great way to experience an old-fashioned sugaring off, without putting yourself or others at risk of contracting COVID-19.
On top of this, they have also started organizing occasional barbecued chicken dinners that can be reserved for takeout as well. For the March 27 date this meal sold out less than 24 hours after it was announced on the Facebook page, Érablière Jamieson Maple. They will also be selling their usual baked goods and maple products, which are available exclusively at the sugar shack.
In Quebec, maple season is such an integral part of our culture, and sugar shacks are so uniquely Québécois. Ouimet jokes that she thinks “most Quebecers brave through our frigid winters just to get to spring to be able to celebrate the sugaring season.” She also emphasizes just how wonderful it is that we have this product to bring us together as a community: “Maple syrup isn’t something that’s produced everywhere in the world. It’s exclusive to a select few [regions] that we are very lucky to be part of. It would be such a shame if it wasn’t celebrated.”
Ouimet also mentions the importance of supporting one another in a small community, especially in times like this past year, since, she says, “any small business that relied on extra seasonal traffic to boost sales and income won’t be seeing that now.” Shopping small and local can be the very thing that keeps community staples open. “This is the time when neighbours really have to support neighbours,” she adds. “Keep your purchases within a small radius if possible, or if you do have to outsource out of your community, look for the smaller business that can cater to your needs, not the big box stores.”
At the end of the day, Jamieson Maple wants to contribute to the Valley community in a positive way right now. With all the bad news we hear every day, it’s important to have exciting things like maple season to make people smile. “During these trying times,” Ouimet says, “we definitely need something that’s going to boost our morale, to give us that extra shove to get through it.” Supporting local sugar shacks is a sure-fire way to boost the morale of any sugar lover.
Jamieson Maple, 132 Brook Road, Athelstan, 450-264-8228.