QUEBEC HIKING AND CIDER MEMORIES
Back when I was a student at McGill University in Montreal, occasionally I would visit the Gault Estate with friends and climb Sugarloaf Mountain (in French, Pain de Sucre), which is part of the Mont-Saint Hilaire hills pictured above. This protected nature reserve has been owned by McGill since the late 1950’s and is now a UNESCO-recognized biosphere with old-growth forest and other pristine features of the original landscape. As I recall, it took a couple of hours or so to reach the top, from which there were panoramic views of the countryside and Richelieu Valley.
We would drive down there from Montreal, I think a half-hour drive or so, this is when Montreal and area traffic still had human dimensions unlike today’s semi-gridlock pattern.
Usually we would stop at farmhouses on the way and buy three things: a white loaf (Quebec country bread was quite plain, a simple white loaf with a light crust), white cheddar curd cheese which was salty and would squeak on the teeth – if it didn’t squeak it was too old – and, if he had some, the farmer’s apple cider, typically made from the McIntosh variety which is still a big eating and cider apple in Quebec. The Mac hails from Ontario originally and still has a good crop here, but Quebec adopted the variety as its own early on and does the best work in the field, in my view. Quebeckers quite naturally took to apple cultivation as many French colons were from Normandy where apple cultivation and derivative products are both legion and legendary.
In the early 1970’s, cider had not yet been legalized for sale in Quebec, this came a little later. So it was sold under the counter as the expression goes, either that or perhaps it was sold as apple juice with the purchaser deciding if he liked the sharp tang that week’s version offered. 🙂 I recall that it was quite rough in taste, usually bone-dry too, similar to some scrumpy cider I later drank in England. After a good walk up the wending path to the top, this tripartite snack really did refresh and I recall a fourth element too, a good cigarette as these were the smoking years. It might have been Export A hand-rolled, a favoured Quebec brand then – that was a long time ago – or maybe one of the American brands I would bring back from beer runs to Plattsburgh, NY. Kent in the long white pack, say, or Camels or Philip Morris, no filter. The good old days. 🙂
Image attribution: “Dieppe Rocky Otterburn” by Guillaume Hébert-Jodoin – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dieppe_Rocky_Otterburn.jpg#/media/File:Dieppe_Rocky_Otterburn.jpg).