A Regional Canadian Food: Simcoe County and Waterloo Region in Ontario
This month’s challenge for the Canadian Food Experience Project, which began on June 7th, is to share our collective stories through our regional food experiences. By sharing our stories we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what regional dishes I’m familiar with. There are a lot of dishes that I make that harken back to my English heritage. I now live in Waterloo Region and if you visit here, you will notice that a common site is black-clad Mennonites parking their carriages at Home Depot and Walmart. It took this Barrie, Ontario girl a little getting used to.
Apart from summer sausage, I don’t really know what regional dishes are common around here. I’m sure there are many Mennonite folks around Waterloo who would shout out some suggestions if they read this blog post. What I have noticed since living here is the proliferation of Mennonites selling maple syrup on the side of the road when the sap starts running in the spring.
There is a huge maple syrup festival in Elmira, just outside of Waterloo. I confess that I have never been because I’ve heard that it is an absolute madhouse and so crowded. It is a very popular festival but it is far to crowded for me to enjoy, so I think I will continue to skip it.
I have been to a maple syrup festival, several times in fact. My husband grew up in Elmvale, Ontario and they hold a maple syrup festival every year. It was a big deal for his little town of about 1600 people. There was a parade and all the students, elementary and high school kids, got a half day off of school.
Barrie, where I’m from, is the big city in Simcoe County and I had never heard of the Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival until 1996 when I started going out with Simon in my last year of highschool. We don’t go to the festival very often now but my husband still has many fond memories of being in the parade and performing at it with his high school punk band. You may have seen pictures of my husband on this blog, but when in high school, he was an eyebrow and tongue pierced, crazy dyed hair punk rock skater. The story of how we started going out is for another blog post.
Where I find that I am home seems to be a place that has a strong farming culture. I’m not a country girl by any stretch, but I sure as hell am not a city girl (I don’t drive in Toronto). I come from a long line of farmers and my husband comes from, let’s not mince words, a hick town. We have settled here in Waterloo because of school and job opportunities in the tech industry but you don’t have to look far at all to see that Waterloo Region is also chock full of farmers.
Waterloo Region and Simcoe County have very different heritages when it comes to who settled the area. Simcoe County was settled by mostly English, Scottish and Irish as evidenced by the place names of the towns and village, save a few pockets of French Canadians. The area of Waterloo Region where I live has a strong German and Mennonite heritage. They are connected by their tradition of farmers looking to their land for ways to supplement their incomes and coming up with the same answer. Maple Syrup.
What is more commonly Canadian than Butter Tarts? I’m sharing my recipe for Maple Whisky Butter Tarts with a Gluten Free Crust today. We seem to come from very different places but we all end up with a Butter Tart in our hands here in Canada.
- 2 cups All Purpose Gluten Free Flour (such as Bob's Red Mill) + more for rolling
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ cup cold butter, cubed
- ½ cup cold lard, cubed
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 1 tsp vinegar
- ½ cup maple syrup (medium)
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- ¾ cup raisins*
- 3 tbsp Whisky (any kind)
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Put the GF flour in the bowl of a food processor with a blade attachment. Add the other dry ingredients and pulse the machine a few times to mix them together.
- Add the cubed butter and lard and pulse the machine until the fat is size of small peas mixed with the flour.
- Mix the water, vinegar and egg together in a small bowl and pour it into the flour mixture in the food processor.
- Pulse the machine until the dough starts to come together into a ball.
- Turn the loose ball of dough onto a floured board. Gently knead it so that it comes together in a ball. Divide the ball in two and flatten each half into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least a half an hour.
- Place a large piece of wax paper on a large board and dust it well with flour. Place one disc of dough on the piece of floured wax paper and dust the top of the dough well with flour. Place another large piece of wax paper on top of the dough and roll it out with a rolling pin.
- Frequently lift the piece of wax paper off and dust with flour again. Lift the bottom piece of wax paper up on one side and gently reveal the underside of the dough and dust it with flour. Do the same on the other side.
- Put the piece of wax paper back on top and continue to roll the dough until it is 3mm thick.
- Use a biscuit cutter to cut out circles and press them into a mini-muffin tin.
- When the tart pans are filled put them in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Mix the whisky with the raisins and let sit.
- Melt the butter with the brown sugar in a small saucepan. Mostly dissolve the brown sugar in the butter.
- Remove from the heat and let it cool.
- Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla, whisky and raisins.
- If making mini-tarts, then fill each one with a scant tablespoon. Fill approximately ⅔ full.
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 11-12 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly.
- Let cool 5 minutes in the pan and then carefully remove them from the pan and continue to cool them on a rack.
- You will get approximately 36 mini-tarts.