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

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