Thursday, April 20, 2006
Tarte au Sucre: An Ode to Quebec
When I first moved to this region almost six years ago, I had only two goals in mind: get as close to New England as possible and reside next to a large body of water (preferably, the ocean). Well, I am not in New England proper nor am I seaside, but I am just a stone's throw across Lake Champlain from Vermont. Not bad. And though I am not thrilled about living in the land of six to seven months of cold ("Always winter, never Christmas?"), I do love distinct seasons, particularly the riotous fall color, and also being no more than a half day's drive from many wonderful places such as the Big Apple, Beantown, and a good chunk of Maine. But the one thing I didn't anticipate in moving here was how much I ADORE living on the border of Quebec. We are a mere six miles from Hemmingford, QC, and about an hour from the wonderfully cosmopolitan city of Montreal. We often joke that our closest grocery store is in another country, except that (mini-marts not withstanding), it's no joke! It's true! So when life in the cowtown formerly known as Ober's Corners (home to 18 houses, one convenience store, and of course, one Catholic church) gets to be a bit mind-numbing, it is a pure JOY to have a bit of France in your back yard! And for the passionate cook and foodie, Quebec is a culinary wonderland! Why, just across the border begins the Circuit de Paysan (technically, the peasant's route, but we might say the scenic route!). If you follow it, you will encounter orchards, vineyards and cideries, old-fashioned butchers (the kind that smoke their own meats), cheesemakers, apiaries with local honey, Old World bakeries who make amazing breads, and in the summer, farmer's markets with fresh produce. Just incredible!
At the school where I teach, I am a member of the Cultural Affairs Committee and a former chair of our annual Diversity Celebration. So I am frequently involved with bringing different kinds of ethnic activities to campus. The favorite thing I like to do is to host a "Dinner and a Movie" night where we watch a movie from a particular culture and then discuss it over a meal featuring that country's cuisine. I already talked about our Indian night in a previous post, but this year, we are focusing on our neighbor to the north, Quebec. Tomorrow night, we are watching a film called The Seduction of Dr. Lewis which is set in Quebec, and then we will enjoy some regional desserts afterward. My contribution will be the traditional Quebecois sugar pie. I know people think first of maple in this area, but according to Julian Armstrong's A Taste of Quebec, maple syrup is not usually plentiful in the Laurentians. So a more common dessert than the maple pie is one made of brown sugar and cream. Indeed, I've never seen a grocery store up there without sugar pies in the bakery section! They're delicious and caramel-ly, sort of like a pecan pie without any nuts (though not as jiggly, as it is not an egg-based affair).
The tarte au sucre recipe that I have adapted is called Fleur-Ange's Sugar Pie (handed down from someone's grandmother named Fleur-Ange Vanier Rochon--let that roll off your tongue!). However, it calls for a double crust which I have never seen around here. So I make an open-faced pie. Also, I double the filling for a deep-dish confection. Other than that, the recipe is embarrassingly simple. Here it is:
Fleur-Ange's Sugar Pie
2 cups brown sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whipping cream, light cream or half-and-half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or a couple of pinches of freshly-ground nutmeg
pastry for a 9-inch (deep dish) pie
In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, flour and cream. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Boil for two minutes, remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla or nutmeg. Let cool. Pour filling into prepared pie shell. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes or until top crust is golden.