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.
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:
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.
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
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.