Catharine Parr Traill’s Bush Tea Cakes

Catharine Parr Traill emigrated to the Kawarthas in 1832, becoming one of the founding figures of Lakefield. She found the time to record not only her experiences as a pioneer, but also the flora that she encountered. Catharine was a prolific writer, providing much advice for new migrants on life in the backwoods. At the time, having tea was a luxury, that would have to be painstakingly paddled and carried to the region. Her bush tea cakes are much like the tea biscuits that would be made later. The recipe reflects the conditions in which this treat would have been made. Measures were often informal, recipes relied on the skilled eye of the baker to judge the right amount of an ingredient to include, and baking was done at the fireplace that heated the home. The baker would carefully attend the fire—it took a lot of careful work to bake anything.


  • Maple Sugar
  • Warm Water
  • Saleratus (A precursor to baking soda)
  • Flour
  • Lard or Drippings
  • Caraway Seeds (or any spice you might have)
  • Salt


  • Scrape down a large cupful of maple sugar
  • Dissolve in warm water
  • Put in a teaspoonful of saleratus, well powered
  • Rub in two basins of flour, a good bit of butter or some lard or dripping, and throw in a few caraways or any spice you may have and a teaspoonful of salt
  • Knead lightly
  • Cut out with a tumbler, the lid of an old tin tea-pot, or any other convenient cutter
  • Bake before the fire in the frying pan, or in the bake pan. The frying pan is often used in the backwoods, for baking cakes or bread.

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