Road tripping: the Kawarthas-Northumberland Butter Tart Tour part 1

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.

Disclaimer: We were guests of Ford Motor Company of Canada and Kawartha Lakes Tourism but all opinions, as always, are our own.

 

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Raspberry Clafoutis

A simple, not-too-sweet dessert

Clafoutis is considered by many to be one of the quintessential desserts of France. The popular treat is surprisingly easy to make, yielding a fruit-filled delight that falls somewhere between a cake and a custard. Based on a traditional crêpe batter, clafoutis is typically made with sweet cherries (purists would insist they need not be pitted, though I beg to differ) yet the recipe lends itself to using any fruit that’s not going to release too much juice into the batter while cooking. I’ve tried (with great success) blueberries, blackberries and quartered small apricots but I keep coming back to raspberry as it’s just so pretty and flavourful. You can make clafoutis up to a day ahead and refrigerate after baking. I love preparing it in individual serving dishes as shown below, but it’s easy to serve out of a large baking dish as well.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (500 mL) fresh raspberries
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) almond extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) plus 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup (330mL) milk
  • softened butter to grease baking dish(es)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Generously grease eight 1 cup (250 mL) broad, shallow baking dishes (or one 2-quart/2 L shallow baking dish) with butter.
  • Wash the raspberries and gently pat dry on a paper towel. Lay them in a single layer in the baking dishes, points facing upward.
  • With an electric mixer and a bowl or in a blender, mix together until smooth the eggs, flour, vanilla and almond extracts, 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar, and milk.
  • Pour the batter over the raspberries and sprinkle the fruit and batter with the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of sugar.
  • Bake the clafoutis until the custard is just set; test by poking the tip of a sharp knife in the centre of the dish; if it emerges clean, the clafoutis are done – about 30 – 35 minutes.
  • Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold, dusted with icing sugar.

Serves 8.

 

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Watermelon juice with muddled mint

A refreshing taste of summer!

I’m often looking for refreshing drinks to beat the heat and this juice – whether consumed ‘as is’ or spiked with your favourite spirits – is the perfect thing. Because watermelon is so naturally sweet, there’s no need for added sugar (which, of course, makes me wonder why commercially-prepared watermelon juice does contain so much sugar…perhaps because it’s only made with a small amount of ‘real’ juice?) Don’t be too startled by the addition of a pinch of salt – it actually helps make the watermelon taste even sweeter! You don’t even need a juicer to make this – a blender or even a food processor works well too. Watermelon and basil is another fantastic combination if you want to mix things up. And if you love watermelon as much as I do, you might also enjoy this smoked watermelon margarita.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups cubed watermelon (rind removed)
  • 2 cups fresh mint leaves, stems removed
  • pinch salt
  • Additional sprigs mint, to garnish

Method

  • Juice watermelon in an electric juicer. Alternatively, pulse the watermelon a few cups at a time in a blender and pass through a sieve or cheesecloth to remove seeds and large bits of pulp.
  • Place the watermelon juice in a large bowl. Add mint leaves and salt then use a muddler, wooden spoon or silicone spatula to crush the mint in the juice and infuse the juice with flavour.
  • Strain the mixture by passing through a sieve. Chill until ready to serve.
  • Serve juice in chilled glasses, garnished with a sprig of mint.

Serves 4 – 6 depending upon size of glasses; recipe can easily be multiplied.

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Fully-loaded BLT pasta salad

A great twist on a classic sandwich!

I’ve always adored bacon-lettuce-tomato (BLT) sandwiches and to this day, they’re one of my go-to choices when visiting a diner. I usually add cheese to my order and, if the kitchen is amenable, I like to find out what else they can tuck inside, like sliced onion or avocado. This salad perfectly captures all the flavour of the BLT sandwich, presented in a fun new way. Look for jars of good-quality ranch dressing in the produce section of your local grocery store to make this quick and easy dish. By all means add in some diced avocado if that’s how you roll! If you love pasta salads like I do, you might also enjoy this one.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (1 L) uncooked bow tie pasta (regular, whole wheat or gluten-free)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) good quality ranch dressing
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 cups (500 mL) quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) smoked or regular sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) finely sliced red onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) grated cheddar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) minced parsley (optional)

Method

  • Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  • While pasta is cooking, prepare vegetables, bacon and cheese for salad.
  • Drizzle the ranch dressing over the top and stir gently to evenly coat pasta.
  • Add lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, salt, pepper, onion (if using), cheddar and parsley (if using).
  • Toss gently and serve immediately.
  • NOTE: If you want to prepare this dish in advance and serve as a cold salad, toss the pasta with the dressing and season with salt and pepper, then refrigerate. Add the lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, onion, cheddar and parsley right before serving to keep them from wilting or browning.

Serves 4.

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Quick pickled cucumbers and red onions with dill flowers

A fast way to add flavour to any meal!

I love making quick pickles just a jar or two at a time as I find it’s just such an easy way to capture the flavours of fresh produce at any time of the year. These pickled cucumbers take just moments to make and add a nice pop of flavour to any meal. If you’re interested in learning more about how easy quick pickles are to prepare, you might like to try pickled blueberries, pickled grilled corn, pickled cauliflower or pickled turnip.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) vinegar (apple cider, white, and rice wine are all good)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) salt
  • 2 cups/500 mL sliced baby cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) dill flowers

Method

  • Combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve salt and sugar.
  • Pack sliced cucumbers, onion and dill flowers into two clean 1 cup / 250 mL canning jars. Pour hot brine over top.
  • Put lids on jars and let sit at room temperature until cool, then refrigerate for up to 2 months.
  • Pickles will be ready to eat in 12 hours; you can sprinkle additional dill flowers over top when serving if you like.

Makes 2 jars.

 

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Speedy shrimp tacos

Fast, flavourful and fun!

I think my family believes that Taco Tuesday is just a weak guideline; if they had their way, we’d probably have tacos for dinner three or four nights a week. I’m constantly mixing things up and the latest experiment was shrimp tacos, which were a huge hit. While the shrimp were delightful, you could easily follow the method below to cook scallops or segments of firm, white fish for tacos. Get everyone in on the action of prepping the ingredients and assembling the tacos and you’ll have dinner ready in less than 15 minutes!

Ingredients

Coleslaw dressing / taco sauce

  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) sour cream
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons (5 – 10 mL) sriracha (or more, to taste)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Shrimp Tacos

  • 1 avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 limes, in wedges
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 pound (454 g) shrimp peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) garlic powder
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons (30 – 45 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) each shredded cabbage and carrot (or your favourite coleslaw blend)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) cilantro leaves

Method

  • Make sauce by whisking together mayonnaise, sour cream, sriracha and lime juice in a small bowl. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
  • Toss shredded cabbage and carrot (or slaw mix) with a few tablespoons of the prepared sauce (just enough to lightly coat the vegetables). Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Put sliced avocado in a bowl and squeeze 1 – 2 wedges of lime over top; toss gently to coat and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl or plastic bag, coat peeled and deveined shrimp in cornstarch which has been mixed with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  • Add just enough oil to a large skillet to evenly coat the bottom and place pan over medium-high heat. Let warm for several minutes before shaking any excess cornstarch from shrimp and carefully adding to pan, making sure not to overcrowd (cook in batches if necessary). Cook for just about 1 minute per side, until pink and just beginning to curl. Remove from heat and transfer shrimp to a plate.
  • Assemble tacos: top one warm corn tortilla with 3 or 4 shrimp and sprinkle with dressed chopped slaw. Add avocado slices then drizzle with a little more of the sauce and sprinkle with cilantro. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Serve warm with lime wedges.

Makes 8 tacos; recipe can easily be multiplied.

 

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Mexican-inspired grilled corn salad

A fun way to enjoy a favourite summer vegetable!

I love corn on the cob and it is one of the aspects of mid-summer that I most eagerly anticipate every year. Lately I’ve been trying to play around with different preparations for this favoured vegetable and I’m really happy with this salad. It’s quick to prepare and makes a great side dish (especially with burgers) or vegetarian main dish. You can adjust the heat to suit your preferences and even add in other elements (grilled red pepper or diced avocado would be great). If you enjoy this salad, you might also like this delightful grilled corn and zucchini salad, this pickled grilled corn, these grilled corn and zucchini fritters or my grilled corn, tomatillo and red pepper salsa.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears of fresh corn, shucked and lightly oiled (olive or vegetable oil)
  • 5 teaspoons (25 mL) mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) very finely crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) chili powder, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Method

  • While barbeque (grill) preheats to medium-high heat, combine mayonnaise, lime juice, sour cream, 1/3 cup (90 mL) of the finely crumbled feta, pepper and chili powder in a small bowl. Stir until well blended and refrigerate until just before serving time.
  • When grill is hot, place corn directly on the grate and cook, turning occasionally, until kernels are tender (test with the tip of a sharp knife) and corn is lightly charred. This should take about 8 – 10 minutes depending upon how hot your grill is. Remove corn from grill.
  • Let corn cool a few minutes then remove kernels from cobs with a sharp knife or corn stripper. Place cooked kernels in a serving bowl and keep at room temperature until ready to serve (for up to 6 hours).
  • When ready to serve, drizzle dressing mixture over the corn and toss to combine.
  • Garnish salad with chopped cilantro, remaining feta and lime wedges (for squeezing over top). Have a shaker of chili powder available so those who wish extra heat can sprinkle some more on.

 

Makes 4 servings.

 

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