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  • Writer's pictureJanette Mitchell

Uniquely Canadian - Butter Tarts

Butter tarts are scrumptious open pastry cups with fillings that are rich and sweet, but what makes them special is that they are uniquely Canadian. One of the first recorded butter tart recipes dates back to 1900, and some people claim that this lovely little tart’s origins are much older. According to Heather Bot, writer at Algoma Country, the story is of colonization in North America late in the 1600s. Many settlers in the newly colonized region of Quebec were men. The King of France, King Louis XIV thought it wise to send women to help with settling further. This group of women was affectionately known as the King’s daughters or ‘filles du roi’. "These young ladies brought with them their traditional European recipes but were forced to adapt them according to what was available”. It is likely that a precursor to the butter tart is the sugar pie, a single crust pie, with sugar the main filling ingredient. With an abundance of maple syrup in Canada, which replaced sugar in the recipe, the sugar pie evolved to the butter tart.

Butter tarts are not complicated. They have a simple pastry cup, and the filling is similar to the American pecan pie, and recipes vary widely. Some pastry recipes call for full lard, half lard, half butter and some (my favorite) are full butter. The fillings vary from the traditional to the unconventional. For traditional you will see filings made with egg, brown sugar, maple syrup and butter as well as extras such as pecans, walnuts, raisins or currants. Some unconventional recipes have cranberries, pumpkin puree, bacon, or chocolate pieces! Their fillings also vary from a fluid to a firm and pastry ranges from soft and chewy to crispy or flaky.

In June in Ontario for seven years running (except for 2020) The Midland region has hosted an annual butter tart competition, trail and festival. The first year the festival sold 10,000 butter tarts by 11am. Current festivals sell between 150,000-200,000 tarts, and nearly 65,000 people attend the event. Bakers are so serious about their tarts that it is common to be secretive about recipes!

There is a definite butter tart culture in Canada, and these unique tarts have a special place in Canadians hearts and tummys. With its simple ingredients and uncomplicated recipe, it’s no wonder some people think the butter tart establishes our national identity![1]

[1] Rita DeMontis, Toronto Sun

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