RIGAUD, Quebec _ Maple syrup may claim center stage at a sugaring-off party here, but a truly Quebecois celebration also stars a groaning board laden with hearty soupe aux pois, tourtiere, creton and oreilles de crises. (That's pea soup, meat pie, coarse country pate and crispy bits of salt pork, by the way. Trust us _ you'll gobble them up.)
There will be music of the fiddling sort. Sometimes dancing. And, depending on one's enthusiasm and athleticism, the opportunity to a) cross-country ski, b) ride a horse-drawn sleigh through the maple bush, or c) sit in front of a fireplace.
The key to success in all of this, of course, is to arrive at a sugaring-off equipped with an Olympic-class sweet tooth.
That factor alone may explain why schoolchildren across Quebec look forward to annual pilgrimages _ okay, they sometimes call them school field trips _ to the province's hundreds of cabanes a sucre, or sugar shacks. Where else can one indulge in ham basted with maple syrup, beans cooked with maple syrup, pancakes with maple syrup and, the ultimate meal finisher, sugar pie? …