Canada 150 – Of butter and tarts

How fitting that the inaugural post for the July 2017 series, Canada 150, falls on Sugar Saturday. Just as well I made mini Nanaimo bar doughnuts and butter tarts for the occasion. (Oh and for something healthy, I cut watermelon in the shape of maple leaves.)

So what is Canadian cuisine anyway? Clay figurines?

Canadian cuisine, like Canadian identity, is hard to pinpoint to an iconic word or phrase. Like the land and its people, Canadian cuisine is diverse, regional and seasonal. It makes use of local and imported ingredients and has been influenced by the Indigenous population and the many immigrants from various places around the world who have been coming here from the 1600s onwards. A Jamaican patty (usually made with toned down spices) is as much a part of the Canadian culinary experience as maple syrup on pancakes with blueberries. And even when we can agree on what is classically Canadian, ie the butter tart, we can’t agree on what it should be like. Raisins, pecans or plain? Corn syrup or maple syrup? Lard in the dough or vegetable fat? Runny filling or firm? There’s even debate as to who has the real butter tart trail: Wellington north or Kawartha Lakes? And agreement on the origins isn’t unanimous either. Was it created by the filles du roy (daughters of the King) who were sent to help populate the new France colony of Québec, developed from a pecan pie recipe brought here from the Americans or concocted by early pioneer cooks? It’s likely the recipe for the butter tart most well-known today has been around since the 1900s.

The butter tart is an individual tart made with flaky pastry and filled with a cooked mixture of egg, butter, vanilla, salt, vinegar and two types of sugar, wet and dry. Much like many Canadians, it is said to be a fusion of diverse origins, makes use of a local ingredient (maple syrup) and is oft associated with Ontario. From butter tart festivals to butter tart innovations there is no shortage of butter tarts in the Canadian narrative.

For the quintessential go-to butter tart recipe, I’m going with my girl Anna. Feel free to omit the raisins and pecans. I do. And for some creative renditions of the butter tart, see 20 Great Canadian Butter Tart Recipes.