Food pilgrims: Easter in the Eastern Townships

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“I need to leave the city this weekend, for at least two nights”, I say to my husband, completely aware that I sound like a very demanding, and annoying, wife. “I need greenery and open spaces and cute wee cafes with home-baking.”

For these requirements, Sutton was a dream come true.

Only an hour and half south east of Montreal, Sutton is a small village in the Eastern Cantons attached to the well-known ski resort Mont Sutton. While the mountain was still open for spring skiers (although with the weather hitting 18 degrees on Saturday, I’m sure they must have been in shorts and t-shirt), the village has much more to give than being a seasonal tourist resort. The rue Principale is lined with fancy gift shops, second hand and antique furniture stores, bakeries, an unbelievable chocolate shop and two of its own micro-breweries, as well as restaurants and hotels. Plus, if you like Quebec wine, it is also surrounded by vineyards and is a great place to come for tastings in the summer.

We got a last minute booking at Gite Vert le Mont B&B, a beautiful old house run by a lovely lady who knows how to make the most delicious tea and pancakes in the morning. We arrived after work on the Friday night and got a seat at A L’Abordage Microbrasserie. I got a light, hoppy, American Wheat Ale, pleasingly named the White Flamingo, while Hugo went for the “Marmite”, a black IPA with a chocolately taste. Quebec really knows how to do beer extremely well.

That evening, the Montreal Canadiens (also known as the Habs) were playing the New York Rangers and the hockey was on in the background at the Brasserie. Once we’d finished eating, we settled in to watch the end of the game, which turned out to be a belter. Even I, with my minimal grasp of what “good” hockey looks like, could tell that the Habs were really faffing about. Our fellow beer-drinkers were letting out a lot of groans and shouts of “chaaaaaaaalisssssse”, a Quebecois swearword that I often translate in my head as “ohhhh shitballs” or “for fuck’s sake”.  But then, with 15 seconds to spare, they scored for a tie. The place went nuts.

“Une autre biere Flamingo, merci!”. This was going to be an excellent break.

*

“That is quite a walking stick you’ve got there. You look like a pilgrim”, I was told, in French, by a fellow hiker on the trail up to Lac Spruce.

I stared blankly at her as I try to translate, while Hugo caught my eye and burst out laughing. The stick in question is something he had pulled out of the snow a couple of hours earlier. It’s gnarled and flaking shreds of bark and it has twisted roots still attached to the top. I had to nab it from him because the ground is still covered in snow and I was slipping around all morning. It looks like something that the set designers on Lord of the Rights might have rejected.

From then on, every time we walk past someone, he turned and looked at me, knowing I am self-conscious about this stupid stick and waiting for someone to say something else. I  grimaced, swallowing a giggle.

I was glad for the stick though. There was still about three feet of snow on the path. The forest is full of the steady drip drip drip of snow melting in the sunshine. At one point, Hugo’s leg disappears through half melted snow, trapping him up to his hips. On the way back down, he slipped and fell flat on his stomach on a steep section of the path and slid about 20 feet town the hill like a penguin. The saved this pilgrim such embarrassment.

*

After this morning exertion, which we had embarked on to burn off a delicious three course breakfast (homemade compote with yoghurt, french toast with bacon doused in maple syrup, toast with home-made apple butter and elderberry jam, locally made apple juice and perfectly made tea), we obviously needed to restore our energy levels with some lunch. Cue La Rumeur Affamée, a delicatessen, cheesemongers and bakery all rolled into one, where I picked up a scrumptious brie, apple and fig compote roll. This was followed by a mandatory trip to Chocolaterie Muriel for an Easter treat. The scent of chocolate sweeps you inside the door and I had visions of myself waking up in the window display the next morning like the Mayor in the film Chocolat.

We stopped at all the plaques dotted around the village to read about Sutton’s history. A particular feature were the buildings that survived the Fire of 1898, that destroyed a majority of the village. The place has retained a lot of its old-fashioned charm, with what I think of as a New England feel – white-washed wooden buildings with colourful doors and shutters, box-like churches with pointed spires, and tree-lined streets.

During a scout around the antique, gift and second hand shops, I couldn’t resist buying a book published in 1911 called “The New Home Speaker: A Book of Entertainment for Home, School and Church, For Young and Old, For All Occasions”. I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t satire; that people seriously read this guide on entertaining at home, for those long nights in without Netflix. There is an hilarious first chapter on “Physical Development” that gives you a crash course in elocution and proper posture and sitting. Here is one of the exercises recommended for “Relaxing exercises for the hand:”

1. Military position.

2. Lean the body forward and dip the tips of the fingers into an imaginary basin of water.

3. Shake the water off violently.

(Repeat twenty times)

I mean, I could not have made that up.

*

That was not all Sutton had to give, oh no. After a delicious afternoon nap (I blame strenuous walk but I concede it could also have been indulgent inputs), we were to be found at a 5 à 7 at Le Plesant Hotel et Cafe, sipping on a red wine and an espresso martini, listening to the Almut Ellinghaus’s Jazz Trio. The local group – a female singer with a silky, old-time treble voice, a pianist and a trumpeter, all superb –  were excellent scat singers. Lo and behold, we were a bit peckish after the nap, so also got a sharing platter of olives, feta cheese and artichokes.

After this, one last eating and drinking inspired activity was left on our list: a visit to Sutton Bouerie. Situated in what looks like a giant barn by the river, it was a chilled night for beer tasting and chatting about how much it would cost to buy one of the houses down the road (by UK prices, it will probably break your heart to know that for about £300,000 you could basically buy a mansion). Beer-wise, the Double IPA really hit the spot.

Sauntering back home as the rain began to fall, Hugo and I pondered over what kind of jobs we would be able to get if we were able to move to Sutton permanently. I would certainly need to be doing more exercise to live here and I would probably have to earn more in order to pay for my new (over)eating regimen.

Do you think they have an opening for an international affairs researcher in the local think tank? No, I thought not…

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