Edmonton Butter Tarts


Recipe Notes (by Alexia Moyer)

These are Edmonton Butter Tarts, submitted by historian Lynne Bowen to The Great Canadian Literary Cookbook. It stands to reason that they should be made and eaten this very week in honour of the latest stop on our tour.

The recipe is not overly time consuming and the ingredients are few. You might even omit the raisins. Or keep them in. Either choice has its risks in butter tart circles. The raisin debate remains heated.


Is there anything particularly Edmonton-y about this recipe? How might one determine this?

Extensive comparative taste testing may yield some result.

Sweet teeth aside, Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks 1825-1949 is invaluable as far as resources go. Driver will help you to establish your field of inquiry. For instance, she has not found any printed examples of butter tarts in nineteenth-century cookbooks (452). In her introduction, she refers to the tart as a Canadian specialty from the turn of the twentieth century (my emphasis xxvi).

This bit of information both narrows and widens your sample. You have only just over a century’s worth of cookbooks with which to draw your conclusions. But Butter tart territory is nationwide (and then some, if you take into account its pecan, treacle, lassie, sugar, banbury, border, and shoofly pie/tart relatives and/or antecedents).


Peruse the dessert section of a handful of cookbooks and you’ll begin to see commonalities in their butter tart selection (should they have one): sugar . . . cooked in pastry.

As for the variables – milk, eggs, butter, dates, raisins, currants, lemon, vanilla, nutmeg, rum flavouring – there are several.

And these variables do not seem to originate from, or adhere to specific regions or cities.

All of the above hail from The United Farmers of Canada, Saskatchewan Section Limited, http://culinaryhistorians.ca/canadian-cookbooks-online/united-farmers-1940 boasting at least 6 recipes for butter tarts (if you count the suspiciously familiar Banbury tart).


In her article, “Regional Differences in the Canadian Meal? Cookbooks Answer the Question,” Driver warns us against “reading too much meaning into recipes with a Canadian place-name.”

In the rather large sample of texts from which she makes her observations, she has found that such connections can be slight.

“‘Manitoba Pudding’ in the Quebec City book,” she discovered “is very similar to the ‘Montreal Pudding’ in the Toronto book; ‘Muskoka Chocolate Cake in the Toronto book is not the same as ‘Muskoka Cake’ in the Victoria book, which contains no chocolate!”

The Nanaimo Bar and Montreal Smoked Meat may launch a protest . . .


What then makes this an Edmonton Butter Tart?

Beyond the title, there is little textual evidence to suggest that this particular recipe is . . . well . . . particular.

Though it is sweet and rich and all you would want in a butter tart. And you can enjoy the result from city to city and province to province.


Adapted from Lynne Bowen’s Edmonton Butter Tart Recipe


  • Pastry for eight tarts
  • 1 cup Sultana raisins
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ice cream



  • Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  • Line eight muffin molds with your favourite pastry.
  • Pour boiling water over 1 cup raisins, let sit for five minutes and then drain.
  • In a bowl mix the raisins, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1 beaten egg. Beat for as long as you can, advises Bowen (or five minutes, whichever comes first).
  • Add ½ tsp vanilla.
  • Fill pastry shells with the mixture and bake 20 minutes.
  • Bowen suggests you serve tarts warm with ice cream. I found that cooled in the refrigerator overnight, they developed a better, that is creamier, texture. This is a matter of personal preference I’d say. According to Elizabeth Baird http://www.canadianliving.com/blogs/food/2009/12/15/the-sweet-treat-debate/, I belong to the “set”—as opposed to “runny”—group of butter tart eaters.


Bowen, Lynne. “Edmonton Butter Tarts” The Great Canadian Literary Cookbook. Eds. Gwendolyn Southin & Betty Keller. Sechelt: The Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, 1994. p. 27. Print.

Driver, Elizabeth. Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.

—. “Regional Differences in the Canadian Meal? Cookbooks Answer the Question.” What’s to Eat? Entrées in Canadian Food History. Ed. Nathalie Cooke. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009. p. 169. Print.

Photo Credit: Alexia Moyer

Sweet, Sweet Edmonton

Oh Edmontonians, your city is so well situated! To weary travellers, you offer sweet respite, or so your chroniclers tell us when serving literary fare.

In these samples of Edmonton, we invite you to notice the sugar, candy, desserts, sweet drinks, and sauces. Perhaps this city’s prime location makes it utterly delectable? Be warned though, sugary fare does not mean straightforward or simplistic. Complexity lies within Edmonton’s “sweet” offerings.


Edmonton’s River Valley in winter.
Photo Credit: Kerry Boyd

Emily (née Ferguson) Murphy’s “Janey Canuck in the West.” (1910) opens its “Edmonton” chapter by declaring, “Nature did her best for Edmonton. Seated like a queen on a throne, she may cast her shoe over as large and fine an extent of the country as the Dominion has to show. There seems to be no limit to the possibilities of this northernmost city on the banks of the Saskatchewan river” (280).
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Apples, Tea, Memories


In The Book of Small, Emily Carr’s orchards and tin-lined apple room signal this fruit’s significance to Victoria’s literary pantry across the centuries. If inspired, you’ll want to pick up some B.C. apples at your local grocery store and try Dede Crane’s Kale Apple Soup featured this week on the Tableaux blog.

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd

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Valentine’s Cake Test

In the middle of our “Capital Meals” series, we thought we should pause to pay a quick tribute to Valentine’s Day.

Cupcakes baked and photographed by Robyn Clarke

Cupcakes baked and photographed by Robyn Clarke

In Canadian literature, the path to love isn’t always easy. Sometimes those sweet Valentine’s Day treats are not simply for wooing, but rather for testing the suitability of one’s partner, or for unearthing one’s own feelings.

Take for example Marian McAlpin, the recently engaged protagonist in Margaret Atwood’s first published novel The Edible Woman (1969). Marian is terribly uncertain in her choice of fiancé, Peter. A sure sign that trouble is brewing in this romance is the fact that while Peter sends Marian a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, Marian sends him nothing. She isn’t even sure what to send. During the course of the novel, Marian’s dwindling appetite becomes her body’s way of telling her that this particular path towards marriage is in error, but at this point, Marian is still confused.

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd


Buying a day-old cake in the shape of a heart as a belated Valentine’s gift for Peter, Marian takes a bite: “She was surprised to find that it was pink in the inside too. She put a forkful into her mouth and chewed it slowly; it felt spongy and cellular against her tongue, like the bursting of thousands of tiny lungs. She shuddered and spat the cake into her napkin and scraped her plate in the garbage” (230).

Ultimately, Peter’s Valentine’s gift becomes a test, not of his affection, but of Marian’s own emotional state. Serving her fiancé a piece of this flesh-like cake, Marian hopes to determine if she is “normal.” Peter eats the cake without hesitation.

Poor Marian. Clearly all Valentine’s Days are not ideal. Her testing of others continually leads back to her own life choices, as she must eventually confront her own uncertainty and the reasons behind her changing appetite. “Cake testers” — they clearly aren’t just a kitchen tool used for measuring whether or not your cake is baked through on the inside!

Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. 1969. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989.

Written by: Shelley Boyd