Let’s ‘pecan’ to the ‘raisin d’être’ of a butter tart festival

Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival, paying tribute to ‘an absolutely fantastic dessert,’ returns to Midland Saturday after two-year hiatus

Why do people like butter tarts?

Entering into its ninth year as the premiere event in North Simcoe, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival has been a welcome attraction for the town of Midland and its visitors from around the world.

But that question still lingers on the tastebuds of townsfolk. Why butter tarts?

“If done right, it is an absolutely fantastic dessert,” explained Jeff White, owner/operator of Georgian Bakery on King Street.

“I think it’s the flakiness, the pastry, the sweetness, and it’s just that perfect mix of creamy with sweet; I think that’s what customers like.”

Butter tarts are small, handheld pastries comparable to pecan pies. Traditionally, the hand-made desserts were simply filled with a syrup of butter, eggs, sugar, and sometimes a sprinkle of nuts or raisins within the pie crust before being baked.

However, the modern butter tart is a culinary masterwork that can be host to toffee, fruit, chocolate, or any imaginable addition that an inspired baker can create; this can also include deep-fried butter tarts.

“There’s also a great debate about what’s better: raisins or pecans. That’s always fun to debate, because the divisions are about 50-50,” said White with a laugh.

The Butter Tart Festival, to be held this Saturday June 11 in downtown Midland, has been one of North Simcoe’s most popular events since its inception in 2013. As of the last count in 2019, upwards of 200,000 butter tarts were available for sale by numerous vendors, selling to the crowd of roughly 65,000 consumers.

“We’ve gone two years without having the festival,” White said. “We’re normally used to having (those) people arrive into our sleepy little town on that day. It’s a great injection to our local economy, especially amongst the short-term rentals and the small business owners.

“The timing is important too; right at the beginning of the season to help jump start all the small businesses. People can shake off the winter, pay off some suppliers,” he added.

Prizes are awarded to professional and amateur bakers for the best butter tarts in two categories – classic and wild card – as selected by a committee of judges including celebrities, chefs, food and travel bloggers, and local dignitaries. The contests are situated in the Rotary Hall venue where members of the public can also take part in consuming the wide range of entries by bakers aiming for the coveted title.

“This is our very first time competing,” said White, full of confidence for the Georgian Bakery offering. “We have a very old family recipe from about 150 to 200 years ago that features currants instead of raisins.”

The schedule for this year’s event will include the Piping of the Tart at 9 am by the Midland Pipes and Drums to start the day. From opening until 5 pm, roughly 200 vendors will be lined within the downtown King Street and waterfront park area, while merchants and shops are open for business.

At 10 am, a presentation of a butter tart stamp will be made by Canada Post Corporation to town Mayor Stewart Strathearn, in the Rotary Hall of the Midland Cultural Center located at 333 King Street across from the library.

Rotary Hall is also where the judging of butter tarts will take place, between 10 am and 3 pm, with the judging of Best In Show and announcement of all winners shortly thereafter.

Shuttles will be available throughout the day departing from: Valley Business Park on Hwy 12 (1000 Wye Valley Road); Georgian Bay District Secondary School (925 Hugel Avenue); Penetanguishene Village Square Mall (2 Poyntz Street); and Penetanguishene Town Dock.

Parking will be free in municipal parking lots and on downtown side streets. The municipal parking lot located at Midland Avenue & Bayshore Drive will be designated as accessibility and expectant mother’s parking.

Further information can be found on the Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival website.

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