A Filling for Tarts (1900) ★★★★★

Butter tarts are one of the very few foods that Canada claims as its own. And yet it shares many similar features with other treats from around the world (pecan pie, shoofly pie, treacle tart, Ecclefechan tart, etc.). Perhaps these were the inspiration for whoever created the first butter tart. As it stands now, all we really know is that the first known printed recipe appeared in the 1900 cookbook produced by the Royal Victoria Hospital’s Woman’s Auxiliary in Barrie, Ontario. The recipe gained enough popularity to be printed in the Toronto Daily News in 1908 and to have six versions in the Canadian Farm Cook Book of 1911. At the same time, butter tarts were far from universal; I examined a few cookbooks from throughout the early 20th century and the best I could find was one recipe for "Egg Tarts" in a 1934 cookbook from Halifax. Perhaps its a regional issue?

A National Archives of Canada exhibition revealed the butter tart as a key source of Canadian identity (an especially idealistic one at that):
"Forget the beaver, forget the glorious maple leaf, forget the majestic and haunting loon – for all these years the country has completely overlooked the most important contribution to our identity as a nation, the butter tart…. The delicate crust supports the rich and creamy centre just as the oceans border our natural resources and the people and the animals that dwell here. Variations and sizes of butter tarts abound, just as there are so many varied cultures living harmoniously in our wonderful country. The Americans have their symbols and sayings, eagles and apple pies, bombs and movie stars. We have the butter tart. Born and baked in this incredible land of ours to be a constant reminder of how sweet and likeable we are."

I went with the apparent original recipe, but you could also try your hand at this one from circa 1950.

Original Recipe*:

2 cups boiling water
1 cup currants
1 cup brown sugar.
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

12 tart-sized pastry shells

PREPARATION: Place pastry shells on cookie sheet, or line 12 muffins cups with prepared pastry.
Place currents in medium-sized bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand five to 10 minutes. Drain currants, discard water, and place currants back in the same bowl. Whisk in brown sugar and butter, and combine well. Blend in eggs.

Spoon filling into tart shells until three-quarters full (make sure currants in the liquidity mixture are evenly distributed in each shell).

Bake in bottom third of 400F oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling is puffed and bubbly and pastry is golden. Let stand on rack for 1 minute. Immediately run flat metal spatula around tarts to loosen (this will help prevent sticking). After five minutes, carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to cool. Makes 12.

The Verdict:

Delicious! Mr. Man and I both enjoyed these. I was worried about the dried fruit, but it wasn't bad at all. I substituted raisins for currants because I couldn't find any at my grocery store. Although it seems like currants were preferred in the earliest recipes, modern recipes usually call for raisins, so it is still partially authentic anyway. I also used pre-made tart shells, just out of laziness and because there was no recipe given (it's just for the filling). Plus pastry has stayed pretty much the same throughout history. The filling was gooey, not runny or firm. Also, I had enough for maybe 20 tarts and only bought 12 shells, so there's lots left over.

Modernized Recipe:

(Adapted from the Royal Victoria Hospital’s Woman’s Auxiliary Cook Book)

Already modernized.

*This is apparently the recipe from 1900. I took this from a website, so I can't verify it's authenticity. It was already modernized, so this is unlikely how it was originally printed.



Elphick, Katherine. "RVH Cookbook Boasts One of First, Printed Butter Tart Recipes." CottageCountryNow.ca. 12 Feb. 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cottagecountrynow.ca/cottagecountrynow/article/387501>.

Jacobs, Hersch. "Structural Elements in Canadian Cuisine." Cuizine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures 2.1 (2009): Web. <http://www.erudit.org/revue/cuizine/2009/v2/n1/039510ar.html#no62>.

Nuttall-Smith, Chris. "Eat, Drink and Be Daring." Toronto Life. Dec. 2007. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <http://www.torontolife.com/features/eat-drink-and-be-daring/?pageno=7>.

"Canada Day: Iconic Canadian Foods." Shine from Yahoo! Canada. June 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <http://ca.shine.yahoo.com/photos/canada-day-iconic-canadian-foods-slideshow/butter-tarts-photo-1340643073.html>.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.


  1. Love the information on your blog ... Happy Friday :-)

  2. FYI - to make this very Christmassy - replace the raisons with fresh cranberries... oh my!

  3. THIS is the recipe I've been looking all over for. No cream, no corn syrup - just plain and simple ingredients. Thank you