Ginger Farm, Ontario
What is, or was, Ginger Farm? And wherefore its butter tart?
Ginger Farm, today, lies under tons of concrete, asphalt, and steel. Between 1924 and 1958 the site was a working farm, near Milton, Ontario. Milton is a 50-minute drive west of Toronto along Highway 401, a broad ribbon vital to Ontario commerce. From Milton you can wend towards Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener, London, Chatham, and finally Windsor where the bridge connects to Detroit, U.S.A.
In the late 1950s 100-acre Ginger Farm was expropriated by the Ontario government to help build the 401. A part is under the clover-leaf linking Highways 25 and 401. Maplehurst Correctional Facility sits atop the other part. Built in the early 1970s, it is known to initiates, I understand, as the Milton Hilton.
As explained in the book Chronicles of Ginger Farm (2009), Lancelot and Gwendoline Clarke had purchased the site in 1924. Gwendoline, nee Fitz-Gerald, was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. Lancelot and Gwendoline married in England while Lancelot was on leave with the Canadian Army.
Lancelot, also from Suffolk, had emigrated to Canada in his teens. He had worked in farming near Milton and pursued other occupations before returning to Britain with the Army.
Once landed as newlyweds in Canada Gwendoline and Lancelot travelled west to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to take up farming. After a few years there they moved with their two children to Ontario, where they purchased land to farm here, near Milton. They remained at Ginger Farm for the rest of their lives.
In her spare time Gwendoline (d. 1966) authored a newspaper column on farming and rural life, “Chronicles of Ginger Farm”. David Mitchell-Evans, a grandchild of the Clarkes, collected many of her articles for the Chronicles book.
The farm was named Ginger, not because the ginger plant was cultivated there, but for reasons that combine whimsy, a literary sense, and knowledge of life’s hard knocks. As quoted in Chronicles, Gwendoline wrote in 1929:
…let me tell you, right here and now, in case there are any who don’t know it, that besides brain and brawn, it requires ginger of the highest quality and spiciest order to come anywhere near success [in farming], and the smaller the capital, the more ginger required.
It is a sign how much society has changed that “ginger” in this sense sounds old-fashioned today.
Gwendoline Clarke’s Writing
Gwendoline and Ginger Farm became widely known in Ontario due to her newspaper work. The columns appeared in the Free Press of Acton nearby and were reprinted throughout Ontario. The Flesherton Advance, a newspaper in Ontario’s Grey Highlands region, printed many columns.
Her writing covered the years of the Second World War, describing how farmers faced rising food prices and falling crop revenues. Many staples were short, e.g. fruits, nuts, tobacco, and coffee.
Her writing limned the daily occurrences of farming life: raising crops; calving or other livestock management; the change of the seasons; the weather patterns. Occasionally she describes seeking diversions, often a movie in a town nearby.
Gwendoline’s writing demonstrates a lively and intuitive intelligence, practical but with a questing bent. This is shown by her interest in the past, and her expressed desire to read more than time sadly allowed her. But she found some time to write on local history, outside the column.
She was perceptive about both animal and human natures, and in general expressed a live and let live philosophy.
The Special Butter Tart
In her 1941 article* in the Flesherton Advance she described a makeshift butter tart. Due to wartime conditions, currants and raisins were not available to enhance the egg, sugar, and butter base, so she used mincemeat from a jar in the cellar. This was of course the sweetened, preserved fruit mixture prepared in British-influenced cultures from time immemorial, for Christmas.
The unorthodox tart was a clear success, to the point the taciturn Lancelot, whom she always called “Partner”, praised its qualities, albeit “not solicited”.
As a busy farmer proud of her role co-running an ever-parlous business, Gwendoline had little time, is my sense, to write down recipes, an activity she probably viewed as frivolous.
Still, the butter tart was so good she felt she had to pass it on, to the benefit of posterity.
Gwendoline expressed the wish that her butter tart, should it find general approval, be called the Ginger Farm Special. It never took off as far as I know, but it’s not too late. Readers of a cookery bent might fetch up some mincemeat and give it a try, especially with Christmas on the horizon.
Note: The 1941 article in the Flesherton Advance, from which the extract above is drawn, is linked in the text. The quotation is from Chronicles of Ginger Farm (2009, published by Bastian Publishing) as identified and linked in the text (via Google Books). All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*To view the original article in Fulton Historical Newspapers, search the phrase “recipes and suchlike” at https://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html