WITHIN ITS FRAGILE pastry shell and its sticky filling of butter, sugar, syrup and egg, the butter tart holds Canada’s memories of long weekends, country bakeries, recipes handed down through generations—and an eternal debate over raisins.
Though it is made from pantry staples, the alchemy of a butter tart’s ingredients makes for something all its own. And its simplicity means you’ll usually have what you need on hand to whip up a dozen. Plus, they freeze well (some say they taste even better frozen, especially on a hot summer day).
But why do butter tarts and Canada seem so inseparable?
For me, it’s the memory of eating oozing tarts on a cottage deck in the midday sun, followed by a dive into the lake to wash off all the sticky residue. Often, it was too hot to bake our own, so my family and I would drive into town and wait in line for butter tarts at the local café, sometimes sharing one on the car ride home.
Whatever your own experience, the butter tart is firmly tied to our Canadian identity. People become lifelong devotees to the tart, pledging undying loyalty to their local bakery or their mother’s version.
But where did the butter tart come from? And is it still a butter tart if you add bacon? Here’s the surprisingly controversial story of this sweet little treat.
THE INVENTION OF THE BUTTER TART
The exact origin of the iconic tart is unknown. Some credit the filles du roi: the young French women who settled in New France between 1663 and 1673 to marry voyageurs. They combined their knowledge of pastry with the ingredients on hand and, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, created butter tarts.
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