Maritime

Dining on the Titanic

A year ago today I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner commemorating the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  It wasn’t just any dinner, but a complete re-enactment of the last dinner that was served to the First Class Passengers on that fateful night.  So today to mark the 101st anniversary I thought I’d share some photographs from the evening.

First I should mention that I do have a bit of a “Titanic thing”.  If you have any interest in history then it is hard not to get caught up in the story of the world’s most famous shipwreck.  However what I find the most fascinating about the Titanic is the sheer amount that we know about her short career.  If not for the iceberg then I suspect she would’ve ended up in a scrapyard like her sister ship the RMS Olympic and all but absent from popular memory. Instead the story of the Titanic has been immortalized by historians, writers, researchers and film makers.  I can even say that I’ve made my own tiny contribution to the historical record – last year some History Geek research made headlines in New Zealand.

There is simply no equivalent.  We know more details about the Titanic and her crew than we do any other ship from that era.  Through that research we can better understand and appreciate everything from the history of immigration and transportation to fashion and social structure.  Also cuisine.

As my regular readers already know, I’m a collector of maritime ephemera including vintage ship menus.  Previously I’ve shared the stories behind menus from the Dutch liners Nieuw Zeeland and Nieuw Holland.  So as a collector of vintage menus it was a chance of a lifetime for me to actually partake in some of the dishes that were served to passengers on the Titanic.

The menu was as close as possible to the original meal served to First Class Passengers on April 14th 1912.  The main variance is that some dishes that would’ve been served separately were condensed into single courses.  Here it goes:

First Course:  Shucked and shelled oysters served on a zesty salsa with a hint of coriander

DSCF0628The array of cutlery was intimidating to myself and most of the my fellow 21st century diners but the advice given to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ saw us right – “Just start at the outside and work your way in”.

Second Course:  Consomme Olga and cream of barley soups presented in espresso cups with herbed croutons.

DSCF0629I’m not sure how accurate the espresso cups were, or if they were the most suitable stand in, however the soup was absolutely divine.  They were easily a grade or two above the Maggis instant soup I’m used to at home.

Third Course:  Delicately poached salmon darnes on a cucumber salad, drizzled with a mousseline sauce.

DSCF0638

Fourth Course:  Brochettes with filet Lili, lamb, chicken lyonnaise and seared duck presented with seasonal vegetables, chateau potatoes and napped with a classic cabernet jus

DSCF0642This was the main course for the evening and was absolutely mouth-watering.  Through the whole evening I was completely blown away by the logistics of how such a meal was prepared in the middle of the Atlantic one hundred years earlier.

Fifth Course:  A light champagne cocktail to refresh the palate

DSCF0645The concept of having to refresh ones palate is something that most of don’t have to consider on account of not having a dinner that goes on all evening!  Not so for those lucky enough to be a member of the privileged class in 1912.  Albeit some of that privileged class being unlucky when it came to their choice of ship.

Sixth Course:  Delicately roasted quail quarters presented with classical accompaniments of watercress, asparagus vinaigrette and pate de foie.

DSCF0646This was the first time I’d eaten quail but it was the asparagus that I was most looking forward to.  Chilled asparagus is one of the dishes that was served separately on the original night and shows up on many of the menus in my own collection.  It seems to be one of the most common palate refreshers at the time.  For example you can see it listed here on a shipping menu from the Nieuw Zeeland in the mid 1930’s.  It was great to be able to try it in the context that it would’ve originally been served.

Seventh Course:  Individual waldorf puddings, peaches in chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs and French ice cream

DSCF0649The secret to the original waldorf pudding went down with the ship.  There are a number of recipes floating around (bad pun, sorry) but nobody knows for sure what the original ingredients were.  Most attempts to recreate it have included apple and walnuts but there is no proof that there is any relationship between waldorf pudding and the well-known waldorf salad.  However the dessert was recreated in the style of what was popular at the time.

Keeping true to the original evening, the meal was followed by cheeses, fresh fruits and coffee – however cigars were off the menu due to twenty-first century smoking regulations.

The evening was a fundraiser for the Wellington Coastguard and during the meal there were a number of distinguished speakers including a gentleman who has dived on the wreck and a woman whose grandparents were on the fateful voyage.  Hearing their stories first-hand was a real privilege.

This year I’ll be commemorating the anniversary in a much more low-key manner with a meal more in line with what was likely served to the third class passengers – but I’ll certainly remember the time I dined like the social élite of an age before.

© Lemuel Lyes

4 replies »

  1. What an astonishing meal! Seriously cool experience! We forget just how different tastes were back then – and dining styles, for those who could afford it. Tony Simpson wrote a rather good book on the NZ historical eating experience a few years back.

    I’ve always found it ironic, incidentally, that the Titanic’s sister ship Britannic sank in the same way – asymmetric loss of reserve buoyancy leading to sinking by the head – despite the fact that the design flaws that hastened Titanic’s end (bulkheads not high enough, for a start) had been fixed. Of course the circumstances were quite different – a combination of U-boat torpedo and the hull-side scuttles being left open, coupled with a foolish effort to beach the ship (driving water into the hull) were enough to scupper the Britannic.

    • I’ll have to hunt out that book you mention, it sounds fascinating! It was certainly a fantastic opportunity to dine in a way that one usually only reads about.

      That is curious about the Britannic. One thing I was wondering about the other day while I had Titanic on the mind is had she survived the scrape with the iceberg would she have made it through the war or not. I presume that she would’ve been drafted into the war effort in some way, or perhaps fallen victim even as a “civilian” ship like the Lusitania. In any event I doubt she would’ve been remembered to nearly the same degree.

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