If maple syrup is your kryptonite, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day is sure to bring you to your knees. Especially with Quebec maple syrup desserts such as Grands-Pères, Pouding Chômeur, and Tarte au Sucre. These are just a few of the Quebecois traditional desserts that celebrate the landing in Canada by the French colonists in the 1600s. Also known as Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, la Saint-Jean, and Fête nationale du Québec, as you can expect, the associated Quebecois desserts are as comforting as the Quebecois mains. Unless you eat too much, in which case the comfort foods quickly become discomfort foods.
We kick off with Grands-Pères, a simple maple syrup dessert that was quite popular during the Depression. We cook these sweet little dumplings in a watery syrup that is saved for serving as well. Here’s a warning for diners, though. The dumplings are usually hot enough to blister the top of your mouth! It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a scoop of vanilla ice cream though, to mitigate the severity of the burn.
The next Quebec dessert we’ll look at was also popular during the depression, the Pouding Chômeur. This translates to poor man’s pudding or unemployment pudding. Ladies who worked in the factories at the time would create it with stale bread. Nowadays, basic cake batter replaces stale bread, but nothing changes the fact that it’s soaked in syrup. Some versions involve the submersion of the cake in the syrup, other versions involve a glorious drenching from above. Both ways sound amazing. No wonder it’s a staple if you’re lucky enough to attend the cabane à sucre, or sugar shack.
We can’t forget the tire Sainte-Catherine, which has quite a colourful background. Quebecoise girls make this taffy to honour the patron saint of unmarried women, Catherine. She was executed when she refused to marry Roman Emperor Maxentius. The French-Canadian tradition of making the taffy began with sister Marguerite Bourgeoys and her idea to hold the attention of her students. The custom later changed to encourage the girls to give their taffy to eligible bachelors. This would show off their cooking skills, and thus break the curse of being an unmarried Catherinette!
Before we go, we’ll consider two more sweets, the first being the Tarte au Sucre, aka sugar pie, which is also popular in France, Belgium, and the US. Again, this maple syrup dessert is excellent if you’re a maple fiend as the filling combines the patriotic syrup with cream, butter, sugar, and salt, which is then baked before being served with freshly whipped cream. Another after-dinner favourite is the sucre à la crème à l’érable, which translates to the delicious maple butterscotch fudge! This Quebecois treat is less sticky than the other three desserts but no less tasty.
Yes, maple syrup features extensively in Quebecois desserts, for Quebec produces more than 70% of the world’s maple! But feel free to branch out and indulge in a cheese platter here and there. It is a French-Canadian holiday, after all!