By Shelley Wildgen
I am in France. Out my window, I can hear kidlets playing; their shrieks of excitement and reproach are the same as in Canada … only in French. Garden gates creak back and forth, a neighbourhood dog barks sharply. Its owner yells ‘Arret’, and pup arrets immediately, until it’s time to bark again. It’s Easter Sunday and French life is full in Saint-Zacharie.
Celebration seems to be an everyday occurrence here and a large part of this joie de vivre is linked to food prep. Daily excursions to the epicerie , the produce market or the supermarket are de rigueur but the most fun, of course, are the regular visits to la boulangerie, le patisserie … the bakery!!! Mais oui! The very word, ‘boulangerie’ conjures up mouthfuls of savoury goodness. A ‘patisserie’ brings on images of warm buttery, flaky, crusty, sugar dusted discs of pleasure. Either way there’s a lot of baking going on. Everyone loves a freshly stocked bakery and the joy that emanates at the sight of an open door is not isolated to France … not by a long baguette.
Just as France considers baked goods to be a basic food group, there was a time that every town in Canada boasted at least two bakeries. Belleville’s most notable bakeries were The Family Bakery and Reddick’s Bakery … both downtown, just blocks from each other; oh, and that little one with the name I can never remember … on the footbridge. Reddick’s and Family Bakery’s specialties included dipped donuts, taffy tarts and birthday cakes. Gluteny, gooey goodness transcended our sensitivities, and went directly to our gluttonous leanings. When I delivered newspapers in the early 70s, there were five corner stores en route. They all received regular bakery deliveries. As luck would have it, delivery day coincided with newspaper collection day so I could count on a tray of freshly baked donuts at each store, a full belly and an empty collection bag. Mon Dieu!
Canadians have always loved bakeries but, unlike our European counterparts, over the last twenty years many were unable to sustain thriving businesses. The big box stores gobbled up every last crumb and we, more or less, accepted that until a revolt emerged.
I credit the butter tart.
With its stalwart simplicity, our Canadian symbol of all things good and golden has grown in demand to the point that most Canadians can tell you where their favourite tart resides. The butter tart was the one baked item that, though elusive, refused to go down with the ship. Bellevillians mourned the loss of Reddick’s sticky taffy tarts and when the option became substandard pre-packaged butter tarts with flamingoes on them, it was nothing short of offensive.
Butter tarts are as Canadian as beavertails and bottled beer, and the hunt for real ones became a favourite pastime for Sunday drivers … especially the seniors who started their Sunday drive on Wednesday. My Aunt Ruth regularly drove the corridor between St. Catharines and Belleville but the best offerings she found were apple crumb pies from the then new Big Apple in Colborne. Tasty. Okay. Still, butter tarts remained store bought, wrapped in bulk boxes.
By the late 90s, real tarts began to re-emerge in two-packs, sprinkled about in corner stores, i.e.: Rachel’s butter tarts, and then as the cries grew louder the bakeries began to come back—some tart focused, some cake centered, and some fully-loaded.
Today, Belleville boasts Crust and Crumb, Riverside Bakery, Confetti Cakes, Glazed and Confused and what’s more, bakeries aren’t confined to the confines of the Quinte area. The Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc features tarts, cookies, pies and finger sandwiches!!! Remember finger sandwiches? Back when sandwiches were wee works of art. Well, they make them!
Venturing north to Maynooth, there is plenty to drive for at Memories Bakery and Tea Room: pies, cakes, cookies, scones and … wait for it … maple syrup tarts; layer upon layer of Canadiana threatening to knock the butter tart from its sweet throne. I mean, can you even? Clearly, with the new norm of guerilla tarting, our bakers are back on their feet and better than ever.
This I know for sure, Canadians will drive and drive for fresh baked perfection. Even if you find yourself as far afield as Bancroft, Zehr's Deli & Bakery is freshly loaded and ready to delight. Stepping out of our county, you’ll be treated to some of the surviving bakery pioneers: Betty’s Pies and Tarts and The Dutch Oven in Cobourg, Dooher’s Bakery in Campbellford, oh and there are four or five surviving and thriving bakeries in Peterborough.
Canada is a huge country and these are just a few of the bakeries dotting our vast terrain. If we want to keep them, we should make the trek often. It may not be possible to do so with daily walks through their doors, as in France, but we can certainly support them with regular visits. We must make sure we never become bakery deprived again. Our nation of butter tart lovers, and all that come with them, depends on it.
The church bells are ringing now here in France, at the time of this writing, and all is as bucolic as you can imagine, but it is Easter and the boulangeries and patisseries are closed. They’ll be open tomorrow and I will continue to enjoy them for the next three weeks, at which time I will pack up and look forward to Canadian bakery shopping … again.