First the history and then a recipe….note I didn’t write THE recipe because butter tarts are about as personal as it gets for a veteran baker. To understand this iconic Canadian tart, I turned to retired York University Professor Mary F. Williamson who responded to my query in her capacity as a culinary and art historian:
“I have gone thoroughly through my cookbook collection and the first reference to ‘Butter Tarts’ I have found is in the Vogue Cook Book, published in 1908 by the Toronto Daily News from recipes submitted by readers. Mrs. G.M.B. of Toronto submitted a tart made up of sugar, butter, egg, currants, vanilla and pinch of salt. That salt is interesting — an early way of cutting the sweetness that subsequently changed into lemon or vinegar. There is another Butter Tart in the book from someone in Plattsville, but it is a very different kind of tart. A “Composition Tart” in the same cookbook calls for “honey syrup or golden syrup, butter, eggs, nutmeg. Corn syrup was invented by Karo in 1902, so hard to say what this syrup might have been. By 1911 in the Canadian Farm Cook Book you have 6 recipes for Butter Tarts from all over Ontario. And then, of course, “Filling for a tart” in the Barrie Victoria Hospital Cook Book of 1900 which by any other name is a butter tart,”.
Butter tarts were what most farm wives had at their disposal…good butter, eggs, sugar, flour and lard for the pastry. And over the years bakers all across Canada have adopted the tart as their own.
This recipe comes from Peggy Morris who, even though her vision has failed, still has that special touch that makes them so very good. They are the dessert of choice that her four sons grew up on in Peel Township in Southwestern Ontario.
• Pastry for 18 deep tart shells
• 1 cup (250 mL) raisins
• 2 eggs
• 1/3 cup (75 mL) corn syrup
• 1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
• 3 tbsps (45 mL) melted butter
• ½ cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts or pecans
In a small bowl, cover raisins with boiling water. Let soak for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, corn syrup, brown sugar, melted butter and nuts. Stir in the raisins. Pour evenly into the prepared tart shells.
Place into a preheated 450’F (220’C) oven for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 350’F (180’C) an open door slightly for 15 – 20 seconds to bring temperature down rapidly. Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbling and deep golden brown. Let cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing tarts from the pan.
Recipe excerpted from Anita Stewart’s CANADA: The Food, The Recipes, The Stories (HarperCollinsCanada 2008).