Was the Butter Tart Really Invented in Barrie, Ontario? Jaan Kolk Files

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Was the Butter Tart Really Invented in Barrie, Ontario? Jaan Kolk Files

Jaan Kolk It’s difficult to believe butter tarts were invented in Barrie, Ont. in 1900. The claim is actually “first printed butter tart recipe”, based on Mrs. Malcolm MacLeod’s small submission to a cookbook published to raise funds for Barrie’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

977-08 Opening of the Royal Victoria Hospital, 1897, Copyright: Public Domain

None of the other recipes claim to be original, and it’s difficult to believe no one in the world ever made a simple tart filling consisting mostly of sugar and butter before. Here’s what was in the cookbook:

Image may contain: text
 974-97 Royal Victoria Cook Book, pg. 88-89, Copyright: Public Domain— The recipe was contributed by a Mrs. Malcolm MacLeod of that city. Her own first name was Mary, all as explained in the link. She did not employ the term butter tarts, but her recipe is clearly that, sans the name.

Jaan was right—–While butter tarts are known around the world as the quintessential Canadian dish, the invention of this confection actually goes back to before Canada was even a country. During a ten-year period, from 1663 to 1673, at least 770 young women were sent to Quebec by Louis XIV to help with colonization. These single ladies were sent with dowries to help boost settlement in New France, meaning they were going to marry, then cook, clean and procreate (the baby boom after this immigration was bigger than post-WWII). These King’s Daughters (or Filles du Roi) as they came to be known did what any resourceful baker would do: they made do with what they had. With the abundance of new food they created the butter tart forerunner with baking ingredients readily available like maple sugar and dried fruit. This ancestral tart later led to variations like tarte au sucre and the butter tart.

Jaan Kolk It would be quite a task to scour old cookbooks for a similar recipe, but it’s easy to search newspaper archives for the term “butter tart” (a term not even used in the Barrie cookbook.) Here’s what I found:

1889-1891, several US newspapers published “The Uncle from America” from a French work “The French Epoch.” Uncle Bruno had returned from America and was coming to see his family at his birthplace, near Dieppe. All were keen to impress the uncle. The description of the spread which had been prepared ended with “…and a butter-tart completed the bill of fare which made the children exclaim with delight.”

January 31, 1899, a “cheering, clean, and cheap” Montreal eatery advertised in the Gazette a 10-cent meal which could include butter tarts.

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Jaan is right on this too. Throughout the early 1900s butter tarts gained popularity and variations were published in Toronto’s Daily News and included in the 1911 Canadian Farm Cook Book. Butter tarts became all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s, and by the 1980s readers were desperately writing The Vancouver Sun’s fictional baking expert, Edith Adams, for a copy of her recipe.

Dear Edith Adams: I’ve lost your recipe for butter tart bars – the one that doesn’t have raisins or currants in the filling. Hope you can find it. – N.B., Richmond

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The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
11 Apr 1959, Sat  •  Page 26
Chatelaine page from 1931
he Queen of Tarts from 1931. Photo, Chatelaine.

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The Northern Pacific Farmer
Wadena, Minnesota
25 Aug 1881, Thu  •  Page 3–All consideration of apple butter tarts, made that is with the product apple butter, and lemon or orange butter tarts, has been excluded as the dominance of the fresh fruit flavour seems to take these out of the basic Scots-Anglo-Canadian butter tart family.


Jaan Kolk
 Linda, I had come across recipes for lemon butter and apple butter for tarts and pies from the 19th century, but considered them somewhat far from the filling in butter tarts. Pecan pie, I think, is closer.

Slice of Quebec sugar pie on a plate with whipped cream
Quebec Sugar Pie-https://www.ourhappymess.com/quebec-sugar-pie/

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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