“Le canard, le saumon, et le couchon
Ont donné leur vies
Pour provider mon bon petit déjeuner
Au Chateau Frontenac.”
“The duck, the salmon, and the pig
Have given their lives
To provide my lovely breakfast
At the Chateau Frontenac.”
Just two days in Quebec, and I’m writing poetry in French, celebrating my lovely breakfast of duck pate, lox, bacon, and sausage, with some lovely strawberry jam [confiture] from a confiturerie [jam maker] on the Ile D’Orleans.
You see I’m building my word power by eating delicious food.
There are more than one million reasons to visit Quebec, but the first one has to be the food. Restaurants here have always relied on local ingredients since the 1600s, mainly from the Ile D’Orleans, an island on the St. Laurence River known as the “Garden of Quebec.”
The island, which is about 20 miles long and five miles wide, is reached by a long bridge from the mainland, and the road the runs around the perimeter is dotted by little villages with farms and artisan studios and art galleries.
We toured a confitururie, a 17th-century manor house, a vineyard, and a farm that grows black currants used to make wine, and sweets, and a delicious liqueur known as creme de cassis.
At the confitururie, Tigido, we met Vincent the confiturier, and sampled some jams made from the luscious berries that abound on the island. The strawberry jam was a triumph in its own right, but we also tried strawberry with lavender and my favorite, strawberry with basil.
At the manor house, we were transported back to the household of a wealthy doctor in the colony, and all the housewares and artifacts and costumes, as well as the architecture and decorations of the house itself, really gave a vivid impression of what life was like in the early years of the settlement.
At the Cassis Monna et Filles, we learned the many wonderful uses of the black currants they gro. Founded by Bernard Monna in 1971, and now run by his daughters Anne and Catherine, the farm is known around the world for its award-winning wines, liqueurs and syrups.
We met with Anne and Bernard, who described their plans for a major renovation of their farm and restaurant.
Then, on the mainland, you have a European walled city with cobblestone streets and beautiful ancient architecture that allows you to travel back to the seventeenth century without the bother of crossing the Atlantic.
And during the New France Festival, you’ll find all kinds of concerts, demonstrations and reenactments to help you visualize the busy New World city that was Quebec.
Many Quebecois are decked out in period costumes: lots of beruffled aristocrats in waistcoats and knee breeches and their ladies in elaborate gowns and coiffures, and soldiers and trappers and blacksmiths and Native Americans and bourgeois like me.
My costume had a lot of bling — ruffles and satin and gold lace — but it was blue to distinguish it from the burgundy outfits worn by the nobility. So I was “new money,” but hey, I’ll take it. Like they say, new money is better than no money at all.
We attended one of the splendid banquets held nightly on the Quai de Pionniers, where we enjoyed five sumptuous courses paired with sprightly local wines.
Foie gras poêlé [pan-seared foie gras], purée de topinambours [Jerusalem artichokes], grenadins de veau [veal grenadin], champignons sauvage [wild mushrooms], crème mascarpone [Italian cream cheese] aux petits fruits de saison — now that’s what I call building your word power!
Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the legendary hospitality, the foot-stomping music, the iconic Chateau Frontenac, where FDR and Churchill met to plan strategy in World War II, and the importance of festivals like this for passing along the province’s French heritage to future generations.