The Victoria Day weekend is upon us. While many Atlantic Canadians familiarly know it as May two-four weekend (often used in reference to the size of a case of beer), a few of us will be looking to bring back a little Victorian-era glamor to this much anticipated holiday.
No doubt, no shortage of beer will wash over the lips of Atlantic Canadians as we open up our cottages, take overdue road trips — albeit with lighter wallets thanks to recent hikes in gas prices — or simply a well-deserved break from work.
But my weekend will also include some Victorian era inspired cocktails.
victorian era libations
Of course, tea is the drink of choice of many Victorian era inspired occasions, but I like something a little more spirited.
While beer was a very popular beverage of the era, particularly among the working class, in the 1600s and 1700s gin was also a drink of the working class. Though beer was seen as somewhat medicinal and a drink to quench the thirst after a day’s labour, gin and other spirits were associated with public drunkenness, a beverage of ill-repute and the drink of the lower classes.
This changed with the Victorian era, which ushered in a new reputation for gin, a spirit we now consider elegant. The evolution of gin, from the harsh sweet versions of the 1600s and 1700s to the new London dry gin style that emerged in this era, contributed to the evolution of the spirit. Gin was now seen as more respectable beverage and often served in cocktails.
The best known of these cocktails, was and still is the gin and tonic, which was originally created as a way for Englishmen, particularly Naval officers on duty in tropical colonies to take their daily dose of quinine, a very bitter medicine used to ward off malaria. Modern tonic water still contains quinine, though only as a flavoring rather than a medicine. There is no great secret to making a great gin and tonic other than using good gin and good tonic.
Other popular beverages of the time, particularly in England, were fortified wines such as Sherry, Port and Madeira. Port producers, many of whom were originally English traders — as evidenced by the names of its most famous producers such as Croft, Taylor Fladgate and Graham’s—also like tonic. While most Ports are red, and meant to be drunk on their own, the less produced White Port is fantastic when mixed with tonic water. The combination makes a legendary refreshing mixed drink, often served in the Douro (Portugal) on a warm day.
Watch my Wined & Dined segment this week for a demo of how to make some of these cocktails and recipes at home.
gin and tonic
- 1 ½ oz gin
- 5 oz tonic water
- Lime wheel, for garnish
Directions: Fill glass with ice. Add gin. Top with tonic. Garnish with lime.
White Port and Tonic
- 2 oz White Port, such as Croft or Taylor’s Chip Dry
- 5 to 6 mint leaves
- 5 oz tonic water
- lime wedges
- Mint, for garnish
tea time treats
While the concept of celebrating low or high tea may seem outdated, the delicious finger foods of this English tradition can still have a place at long weekend celebrations.
Scones are perhaps the most iconic low tea offering, but they need not be mundane, as evidenced by The Spruce Eats collection of scone recipes. From savory to sweet, the lowly scone can deliver a remarkable amount of flavour.
While the thought of a scone served with some potted cream does have a regal connotation, I prefer finger sandwiches. I can still remember when finger sandwiches were standard party fare. When made right, they can deliver a remarkable amount of flavor with a minimal amount of preparation.
Of course, no tea party is complete without dainty sweet treats. Renee Kohlman’s lemony cookies and muffins are great for spring tea parties.
Mark’s Curried Chicken Sandwiches
Makes 24 mini open-faced sandwiches
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp curry powder*
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 lime, juice, zest
- 3 chicken breasts, cooked, chopped
- 1/4 cup raisin
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 6 slices raisin bread, cut into 24 small triangles
- 2 green onions, finely sliced
- Lime pickle, to serve
Directions: Combine mayonnaise, curry powder, honey, lime juice, lime zest in a bowl. Mix well. Add chicken and raisins. Mix well. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Top the bread with curried chicken mixture. Garnish each sandwich with sliced green onion. Serve with lime pickle on the side.
*Use a good quality curry powder such as Sherwood’s (available at most grocery stores) or a locally made blend.