In search of one of Canada’s quintessential desserts!
Who knew a scavenger hunt could be so delicious and interesting? You can only imagine how excited I was to be given an opportunity to head out and explore the self-guided Kawarthas-Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. As if tasting butter tarts for a couple of days while driving through some of Ontario’s most scenic countryside wasn’t enough, it was equally enticing to have an opportunity to take a 2019 Ford Edge ST out for a spin.
As we prepared for our trip, I learned that the first known published butter tart recipe – proving its genuine Canadian origin – dates back to the early 1900s, which is the same time the Ford Motor Company of Canada built its first car – the Model C. Over 100 years later, butter tarts remain as popular as Ford vehicles do with many Canadians. I couldn’t wait to head to the heart of butter tart country!
As I got behind the wheel, I was immediately impressed by what the Edge’s smooth ride and found it very responsive and peppy thanks to its twin-turbocharged, six cylinder engine. I particularly enjoyed shifting the vehicle into sport mode, which brings steering wheel mounted paddle shifters into play and offers a great boost of power – it felt a bit like what I imagine driving a race car would be like. Front seat adjustments include lumbar support but even better than the body-hugging comfort was the amazing in-seat air conditioning which was perfect for the hot weather we enjoyed throughout our trip.
In addition to an abundance of plugs (USB, 12 volt and 110 volt) to keep all our technology charged (I joked that ‘plugs are the new cupholders’), we were also delighted to discover that the Ford Edge has a very spacious cargo area. We had room to spare after loading in golf clubs, luggage, bike helmets and of course a cooler to bring back lots of butter tarts!
As we made our way from Ottawa to the Kawartha Lakes (about a 3.5 hour drive) we enjoyed learning about the many other features of the Ford Edge including Co-Pilot 360 technology which includes a blind spot information system with cross-traffic alert, a vigilant lane-keeping system, and a really great rear view camera. Thankfully, we didn’t experience the pre-collision evasive steering assistance with automatic emergency braking although it was reassuring to know this was available. One of my favourite Co-Pilot 360 features is the adaptive cruise control which automatically adjusts travelling speed to maintain a preset distance between you and the vehicle in front.
Heading northward off Highway 7 at Havelock, were were happy to get our first glimpses of the shimmering lakes that make the Kawarthas so popular. We learned that ‘Kawartha’ is an anglicization of “Ka-wa-tha” (from ‘ka-wa-tae-gum-maug’ or ‘gaa-waategamaag’), a word coined in 1895 by aboriginal Martha Whetung of the area’s Curve Lake First Nations.The word was subsequently changed by tourism promoters to Kawartha, meaning ‘bright waters and happy lands’ – we couldn’t help but agree they’d chosen the name well.
It was hard to decide which of the over 50 bakeries on the butter tart tour we were going to visit but we had heard that the Buckhorn Country Mart Bakery was not to be missed. Our first sample of the tour proved to be one of our favourites and it came as no surprise to us to see they held the 2017 trophy for best plain butter tart (meaning no nuts, raisins or other accoutrements). Tasting something this delicious made us even more excited for what lay ahead on future stops.
NOTE: IF READING ABOUT BUTTER TARTS IS MAKING YOU HUNGRY, PERHAPS IT’S A GOOD TIME TO TRY YOUR HAND AT MY CLASSIC BUTTER TART RECIPE.
Coincidentally, the day we set off to explore the Kawartha Lakes was three years to the day that the Tragically Hip (a band I had watched form during my days at Queen’s University) played their final concert in Kingston, so of course the Hip featured prominently on the playlist we were enjoying on the Ford Edge’s excellent sound system as we rolled into town. Curious about the town’s name (Bobcaygeon or ‘bob-ca-je-wan-unk’), we learned that some people feel it is a derivative of various aboriginal words meaning ‘at currented rocky narrows’, ‘at the very shallow currents’ and ‘at the cliffed cascades’ while others believe it is from the French phrase ‘beau bocage’ meaning ‘beautiful hedged farmland’. The hub of the Kawarthas, Bobcaygeon is part of a network that connects 250 lakes and is home to the very first (and one of the busiest) locks on the Trent-Severn Waterway (Lock 32 was built in 1833).
Our first stop in Bobcaygeon was the Kawartha Coffee Company. We ventured in for their legendary lemonade but found so much more at this beautiful stone building with an interesting history. We loved the giant patio brimming with colourful decorations and comfortable seating where we enjoyed a very friendly welcome and superb tacos. The huge outdoor mural that pays homage to the Tragically Hip’s hit song “Bobcaygeon” hints at the Kawartha Coffee Company’s commitment to the arts; in fact, they host live music on a regular basis. The cafe is also a culinary culture destination on the Kawartha Lakes Arts and Heritage Trail. It was easy to see why their patio was among the busiest in town, just up the street from the bustling lock station.
Next up, we were eager to test out the Bobcaygeon Bike Sharing program as we found it amazing to have this service available in a community of just 3500 people (although it does swell to 10,000 in the summer).
Started in 2017, it has since expanded to Fenelon Falls where affordable app-based rentals of 7-speed cruisers are similarly available. In Bobcaygeon, the comfortable bikes are conveniently located right by Lock 32 (from May through October while the locks are open), giving boaters, visitors and residents a chance to explore more of the area without need of a vehicle.
We biked to the Bobcaygeon Bakery where we found maple butter tarts adorned with adorable little maple leaf shortbread cookies. Our two-wheeled tour of town wound its way over bridges, past an eclectic mix of retail businesses as well as homes and cottages of all shapes and sizes until we got to Kawartha Dairy, still owned and operated by the Crowe family, who founded it in Bobcaygeon in 1937. You can read more about their proud history and impressive growth here. Their ultra-creamy, old-fashioned style ice cream sees people flocking to the dairy for a cool treat right up until their 10 pm closing time. Of course almost everyone has a favourite flavour – mine is Moose Tracks with bits of chocolate fudge and chocolate-peanut butter cups studding the delicious vanilla base.
Just a few minutes drive from Bobcaygeon sits the lovely Eganridge Resort, Country Club and Spa.
After checking into our comfortable, well-appointed room (I don’t get to visit places that offer plush robes and slippers nearly as often as I’d like), my husband couldn’t wait to check out the property’s family-friendly, country-style 9 hole golf course. I chose instead to enjoy some reading time on our spacious balcony with its glorious view of Sturgeon Lake.
Our package included a three course meal in the spacious dining room overlooking both the golf course and the lake. Eganridge’s restaurant is a member of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance’s Feast ON program, so I knew local ingredients would figure prominently on the menu. All our dishes – particularly the scallops and the halibut – were terrific and we were lucky to scoop up one of the last remaining butter tarts available that evening. It was by far the largest tart we encountered on the tour and came plated with ice cream and a caramel drizzle. As we walked back to our room we could hear mournful loons echoing across the lake and later we were treated to a dazzling display of lightning over the water as a thunderstorm rolled through the region. Our first day of hunting for butter tarts was a great success and we were quite certain the next two days would prove equally enjoyable.
Click here to read part 2 of this recap.