A Victorian Tea

Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.   

 The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!”    Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015.   She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era.   She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers.   After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend.   Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era.   This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819. 

Victorian Tea CottageNote: the Union Jack (Canada did not get it’s own Maple Leaf flag until 1965) and the old fashioned lilac bush (see Lilac Time)

The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage.   Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds.   It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893,  which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum.    She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by. 

Victoria Tea Cottage

 It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and  kitchen and two very small bedrooms.   

Victorian Tea

Victorian Tea Cottage

The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.  

China cabinet Victorian Tea

The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer.   It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice.  Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend.   The last time I was there,  it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove.     It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.  

Victorian Tea cottage

Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour.   On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog.  (It’s never too late to edit!)  


There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey.    Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates. 

Victorian Teat

 The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons.   The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside. 

Victorian Tea

The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.   

Bird nesting

 Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered.   Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.   

Victorian Tea China

 Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret.    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!   Victorian Tea Cottage

They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove.  (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?)    The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.    

Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party.   Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.  

Postscript:   Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart.   Mix this, Rhubarbwith this, Rhubarb scones

bake as directed,  Rhubarb sconesand you get this.  Rhubarb scones

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!



Tea and Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee PuddingSnow, then ice pellets, then freezing rain, then back to snow again – this has been our weather pattern for the past six weeks.   Today is definitely another stay at home day, and for those weary of winter what better thing to do than to bake.  Your kitchen will smell lovely and your family is sure to be appreciative.  The third Monday in February is Family Day in Canada, as the government felt we needed a long holiday weekend to ward off the winter blues.   The idea is to spend the day outdoors with your family enjoying some winter activities, which inspired my mother to paint this picture.

Snow Day - AMc - 2015

Winter Fun

The weather cooperated last night with an unexpected six inch snowfall which made everything clean and white for tobogganing, skiing or skating.    It’s pretty, but I would much prefer to see some greenery in my backyard and if there are any snowdrops beneath the neighbour’s tree they must be smothered by now.   

There’s finally some warmth to the sun and the air has that mild feeling that tells you winter is winding down, but it’s still cold enough to make a nice warm dessert appealing.    I stole this recipe for sticky toffee pudding from a local coffee shop which specializes in homemade deserts –  well they graciously emailed it to me after I told them theirs was the best ever.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a big seller for them, but sticky toffee pudding is not that well known in Canada, although becoming more popular.   Often thought of as a classic British dessert, it’s origins are actually Canadian, as (Wikipedia) legend has it that two Canadian WW2 officers gave the recipe to a British restaurant owner who put it in a cookbook.   So I guess you could say it’s circled back across the pond.   It’s really more of a cake, but as pudding is an interchangeable term for dessert in Britain, it’s best served with tea (and you can pretend you’re at Downton Abbey).  

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

I used a big muffin pan instead of an eight inch square dish, as it makes perfect portions, and that’s how the coffee shop served it.   Sticky Toffee Pudding

But I scooped the rest of the leftover batter into a small red loaf pan from Christmas because it looked more festive.  Sticky Toffee PuddingWatch the baking time closely, as I took them out a bit before thirty minutes and they were still well done, (and my oven normally cooks slow). 

The caramel sauce is sweet but not too sweet.   I find those cans of 2% evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed), always have a peculiar smell and taste, but you don’t notice it when it’s boiled together with the sugar and butter.   Some recipes say you can use cream if you wish, and I may try that sometime but I didn’t have any and the grocery store was closed because of the holiday.   Of course cream will up the saturated fat content.   Our (President’s Choice) grocery store sold an excellent microwavable freezer brand of this desert, and I was horrified to see they clocked in at 550 calories and over 60% of the days saturated fat quota.  We have extensive food labeling here, which probably discouraged people from buying them as the product was discontinued.   (Note the calories can be cancelled out by volunteering to shovel the driveway).   While many restaurant versions of this desert (and I’ve sampled a few), have a moister darker cake, sometimes with spices, this one is lighter in color and more like a muffin texture.    Store the sauce in the refrigerator if not using right away and reheat.    If you like lots of warm sauce (and who doesn’t as it makes the cake), there was enough evaporated milk in the 300ml can to double the batch.  It’s a rich decadent desert, so you might even want to split one with someone, and of course don’t forget the tea! 

Sticky toffee pudding

Song of the Day:   Tea for Two – Ella Fitzgerald





Harvest Tea

Song of the Day:  Harvest Moon – Neil Young – music link

     I was going to write about Harvest-Fest but as I am currently sick this week with a horrible cold/flu, it’s chicken noodle soup and the couch for me.   It’s been four days now, and I’m still feeling too achy and miserable to even nap or read, two of my favorite activities. 

Campbell's Chicken noodle soup

Bowl of gruel…..er chicken noodle soup

iHarvest-fest is a locally sourced dinner held in one of the neighbouring towns at their outdoor farmer’s market, with food prepared by gourmet chefs from locally grown meat and produce.   I weep when I think of that tender beef and all those heirloom vegetables I am missing, the fancy goat cheese arugula salad, the artisan bread, and best of all the Pie Lady was going to provide desert.  There was to be rockabilly swing music and a full harvest moon in the sky.   But as I said it was to be held outdoors, and I did not think it was a sensible thing to do in my current state of health, so I sold my tickets.   When you are older, you tend to become more sensible, (I have bad memories of H1N1), so I am going to write about my harvest tea instead.

      Last week I had the Group of Seven Art Ladies here for tea and a viewing of my mother’s latest collection of paintings…she did 98 paintings last year, or about two per week.   My mother has painted for over forty years, but she held her first exhibit last year at the age of ninety.   Usually you have to be dead or famous or preferably both to get into our class A gallery, but I entered her in a contest and she was one of three local artists selected for a pop-up exhibit.   One of the art ladies was her co-exhibitor and while not all are painters they are all art lovers, so I guess you could say she has a fan club now.   One of the things about living to be ninety is that most of your friends have passed away, so it’s lovely that my mom has this great new group of friends.   Having lived in a medical world for most of my life, one of the things I found most interesting about the art world is how happy and cheerful and positive everyone is.  (Not that medical people are necessarily miserable, but it can have a high burnout rate).  Creativity is joyful – what child didn’t love art class in school.  One of the reasons the gallery curator gave for choosing my mom for the exhibit was that her art was reminiscent of Maude Lewis, the east coast painter whose paintings are full of color and joy, a celebration of life, although my mom’s paintings tend to be more rural based as she lived on a farm for fifty years.  

Harvest Moon - AMc - Sept/17

Harvest Moon – Sept 2017

Although I consider myself a foodie, I don’t particularly like to cook.   I see nothing wrong with buying something if someone else can make it better than I can.  But I do like to set a pretty table.   I have lots of lovely things I have collected over the years, tablecloths and place-mats, many of them from April Cornell, mostly in blues, as I have four sets of blue dishes.  But as it was fall, I pulled out my red Chinese-looking plates that I bought at Winners two years ago.  (It fit the theme, as we did go for lunch at the Chinese restaurant first, as we would need sustenance to get through all those paintings.)   As Winners is hit and miss, I was unable to get a complete set of mugs or teacups, so I am still on the hunt for things that might match the plates.    I made a cherry cheesecake using the old Philadelphia cream cheese recipe from the eighties, (the one with the can of sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice to cut the sweetness, takes about ten minutes, and best made the day before to set), but bought the Presidents Choice Lemon Curd Cake, (with a small jar of McKay’s Lemon Curd from my friends store to add extra flavor), because it is better than anything I could make, so moist and lemony, and low in calories at 150 per slice.   The ladies really enjoyed the the deserts and the table settings.    Although younger than my mother they are of the age when people had and used good china.    So few people bother today, as no one has time anymore, but sometimes it is nice to be pampered and spoiled.    The lavender sachet party favors were a hit too.       

It’s important to match your desert to your dishes…..no seriously, it’s just how it turned out, including the peaches.   So although I was sorry to miss Harvest-fest this year, (I expect a detailed update from someone), I have fond memories of a fun afternoon spent with a lovely group of ladies. 

 Book of the Day:   I Let You Go – Clare MacIntosh    When I was sufficiently recovered enough to be able to read again, my book club selection was so suspenseful it kept my mind off my misery…..highly recommended….see Good-reads review below.
I Let You GoI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

This book was a selection of my book club, but sadly I missed the discussion. I loved it – it was so suspenseful! It kept me my mind off the misery of three days on the couch sipping chicken noodle soup and nursing a horrible cold/flu. I am not British so was unfamiliar with the book (it was a crime bestseller in 2014), or the author……or waxed jackets. A waxed jacket was mentioned so often that I looked it up on Wikipedia…….”A waxed jacket is a type of hip-length raincoat made from waxed cotton cloth, iconic of British and Irish country life. Today it is commonly worn for outdoor rural pursuits such as hunting, shooting and fishing. It is a cotton jacket made water-resistant by a paraffin-based waxing, typically with a tartan lining and a corduroy or leather collar. The main drawback of a waxed fabric is its lack of breath-ability.[1]….” So, if you are ever on the Welsh cliffs on a cold dark and stormy night when there is a murderer about, please wear one, lest you end up sick like me! PS. I was not crazy about the spooky rather ambiguous ending, but the author’s Q&A profile on Good-reads assures us that Jenna has a happy ever after. I have the author’s second Book – I See You – on order.