If you’ve spent time in Ontario, you’ve probably tried butter tarts. These sticky sweet treats are filled with sugary goo and are a fixture of country general stores and farmers markets around the province.
Nowhere is the love of the sweet treat greater than in Midland, where on June 9, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival will take place. The one-day event drew over 50,000 people to the small Georgian Bay town last year, and over 170 vendors selling butter tarts, tart-themed goods, local clothing, jewellery and artisan products took part.
The festival’s main event will be the Butter Tart Contest, held in the Rotary Hall of the Midland Cultural Centre. Bakers from across the province will vie for the title of “Best Butter Tart,” in a variety of categories, including the very popular traditional category, and Dessert Fusion.
A star-studded panel of judges will be on hand to render their verdict, including Food Network Canada’s The Baker Sisters, and the festival’s founder and former director, Barb Rowlandson who considers herself Ontario’s pre-eminent authority on butter tarts.
“Canadians and Ontarians are not middling about a couple of things — politics and butter tarts,” laughs Rowlandson. For her, butter tarts are all about the filling, which must be gooey but not runny. She’s firmly anti-raisin, but admits this sentiment is controversial.
“I’ve seen perfect strangers standing around having a discussion about what makes a correct butter tart – and it’s not always polite,” she says. In fact, it was this ferocity of opinion that gave her the idea for the festival.
An amateur baker, Rowlandson started selling butter tarts out of her family’s Midland appliance shop in 2013. Customers always had stories about butter tarts gone by – made by grandmothers, for church bake sales, by local shops close to cottages.
Realizing that the dessert held a special place in Ontario’s memory and history, Rowlandson went to the town’s local business association to pitch a festival devoted to the dish. When 10,000 people showed up for the festival’s first event, Rowlandson knew they had a hit on their hands.
This year, guests are advised to arrive early to make the most of the festival and get first dibs on the estimated 180,000 butter tarts before they sell out. A parade will kick-start the day, with the Midland Pipe and Drum performing the “March of the Tart.”
Those looking for culture as well as sugar will enjoy the event’s many arts tent. The tArt Music and Art Festival, which will be set up along the waterfront, will showcase local art, artisan products and free entertainment.
And for the athletes, there are several Tart Trots happening in conjunction with the festival: 1-kilometer fun run (perfect for the kids!), a 5K, 10K and a half-marathon.
For more information, visit http://buttertartfestival.ca/