My mother was a terrific baker: pies, cakes, pans of squares, cooked up for special occasions. But I remember most of all her tarts.
She made a maple tart whose recipe, sadly, I never located when I went through her files after her death: the filling had a dab of raspberry or strawberry jam at bottom, a filling that baked to a spongey cake-like consistency, topped with a maple icing. She also make lemon tarts, using the same filling recipe as her lemon meringue pie, and, of course, butter tarts.
Butter tarts have become a Canadian “thing” — so much so that the town of Midland, Ontario now hosts an annual Butter Tart Festival, held in 2017 on Saturday, June 10.
The festival says that butter tarts “have been traced back to the arrival of the ‘filles à marier’ in the mid-1600s. To fill their tarts, these imported brides from France were forced to make do with what they found in their larders: maple syrup or sugar, farm-fresh butter and dried fruit (raisins).” Similar desserts — which really are all about super-sweet liquidy goo held in pastry — “include Quebec’s tarte au sucre; backwards pie, most common in the Maritimes and Western Canada; shoofly pie from the Pennsylvania Dutch community; and treacle tart, a traditional British dessert.”
It’s one of those recipes with variations that can provoke enjoyment, or horror. The yes-or-no on raisins is a particularly hotly debated issue, as my colleague and fellow blogger Diggin’ the Dirt discusses in her butter tart recipe. But my mother’s butter tarts features both raisins and chopped pecans. I grew up with a taste for some substance amid all that syrup-y sweet.
Mary Teahen’s Butter Tarts
My mother’s recipe does not give ingredients or method for making the tart shells: so assume you’ve made the shells (unbaked), and start from there. This will make enough filling for a typical dozen-tart baking pan and her handwritten recipe, pictured in this post, needs a bit of interpretation (below). And being someone living and cooking in Elmira, Ontario, home of the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, her butter tart recipe mixes corn and maple syrup. I’m tempted to try it, someday, with maple syrup only and see how it turns out.
1/4 cup (or more) raisins
1/4 cup (or more) chopped pecans
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp of vanilla or mpale walnut flavouring
Scatter a raisins and pecans in bottom of each tart shell.
Mix the syrups, brown sugar, and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Add the vanilla or maple flavouring and let cool. Beat two eggs and blend those into the cooled syrup mixture.
Main photo: Kelley Teahen
Fill tart shells half full and bake tarts for 15 to 20 minutes in a 375-degree oven.