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
The 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.
I’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.
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
This 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
The 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.
This 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
The 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