Monday, December 16, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Butter Tarts

Settlers in Saskatchewan brought a lot of recipes with them from the Old Country, but not butter tarts. Food historians agree this holiday favourite is a Canadian invention. Some speculate it may be an offshoot of Quebec's sugar pie or the Scottish Border Tart. However, those confections are baked in a pie plate, while butter tarts are always the size of, well, tarts.

While establishing its Canadian origin, the experts can't agree on the recipe. There are many variations on the "authentic" butter tart. Raisins or currants? Nuts or no nuts? Walnuts or pecans? Custardy or runny? A bit of vanilla or a bit of rum?

It goes without saying that my Grandma O'Hara made the best butter tarts ever, bless her soul, and no Christmas dinner was without them. Sadly, I no longer have her recipe. Coming close is the butter tart made by Linda Boyle, who uses an old recipe from her mom. It was one of the tops picks in the recent Saskatoon Farmers' Market butter tart contest, for which I was a lucky judge.

Linda and her mother, Audrey, made 300 butter tarts every Christmas, freezing most of them in ice cream pails which Audrey pulled out during the year and took to work at a local construction company to share the "love" with the guys. One thing Linda and I agree on (as do many of you, I'm sure) is that gooey frozen butter tarts are the best of all.

Audrey Dunkinson's Butter Tarts
(make pastry here.)
3 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup water
4 eggs
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
24 tart shells

Place sugar, butter, vanilla and water in a saucepan and heat until melted. Meanwhile, beat the eggs. Stir 1 cup of melted butter mixture into the eggs, to warm the eggs, then pour back into the saucepan. Heat and stir until combined.

Place 8-10 raisins and 1/2 tsp pecans in each tart shell. Pour in the filling, to about half full. Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is nicely brown.

(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

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