The Last Dinner on the TitanicbyGary Fisher The Last Dinner on the Titanic

The Last Dinner on the Titanic

On the evening of April 14, 1912 a number of first-class passengers on the Titanic revelled in a privately hosted feast in the first-class á la carte restaurant. At the same time in the first-class dining saloon other first-class passengers - some who had paid the equivalent of $124,000 in today’s dollars for the ocean voyage - settled in for a sumptuous, if over-filling, ten-course extravaganza. Meanwhile, in the second-class dining saloon, second-class passengers ate a less elaborate but beautifully served dinner. And on F deck in what would be called “steerage” in lesser vessels, third-class passengers ate simply prepared, hearty meals served in their own spartan dining saloon.

Several hours later, in the early morning of April 15th, the Titanic sank taking 1581 passengers and crew - many well fed and lubricated - to their untimely deaths.

What is the fascination with “last meals”? Last meals of executed criminals are usually reported in the media: “For his last meal he ordered fried chicken, a Caesar salad and apple pie á la mode.” None of these meals would appeal to the gourmet but for some reason they hold our interest. (One can argue whether last meals for convicted criminals are expressions of kindness or cruelty and give compelling arguments for each position)

Before we die most of us will have unrecognized last meals and for the most part little will be made of them by those who survive us. What sets the last meal on the Titanic apart? Is it that so many died, together, at one time, and that for the first-class passengers at least, their “last meals” were glorious feasts, brilliantly prepared and flawlessly served in an atmosphere of elegance and luxury - with death waiting in the wings? Or is it that the last meal provides a touchstone to the sinking that is accessible to each of us in gustatory terms we all understand? Or is it that the “last dinner” on the Titanic is simply a metaphor for seizing each moment as if it’s the last.

There were only two menus recovered from the Titanic for the night of the 14th. One of these - the first-class menu - is reproduced below. While the manner in which the courses were prepared is not actually known in detail, a recent book by Rick Archibald gives an excellent account of the probable preparation based on similar practice on other White Star Line vessels, White Star’s German competition and recipes of renowned chefs of the day. [Archibald, Rick (1997) The Last Dinner on the Titanic. Madison Press Books, Toronto. 144 pages]. Those interested in re-creating the last dinner and willing to spend ample time in preparation should consult Archibald for full details.

Titanic sank during the last years of the Edwardian era before World War I where the privileged ate and drank with an abandon guaranteed to increase girth and shorten lifespan. Food was rich and fatty, and courses were accompanied with wine and liquor in sufficient variety and quantity to yield magnificent hangovers. As you go over the following menu, take it slowly and try to imagine the impact of each successive course as if consumed in the robust fashion of the day.
The First-Class Menu

As served in the first-class dining saloon of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912

First Course
Hors D’Oeuvres
Oysters

Second Course
Consommé Olga
Cream of Barley

Third Course
Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce, Cucumbers

Fourth Course
Filet Mignons Lili
Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise
Vegetable Marrow Farci

Fifth Course
Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes
Green Pea
Creamed Carrots
Boiled Rice
Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes

Sixth Course
Punch Romaine

Seventh Course
Roast Squab & Cress

Eighth Course
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

Ninth Course
Pate de Foie Gras
Celery

Tenth Course
Waldorf Pudding
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs
French Ice Cream

The repast was served with a different wine for each course. Following the tenth course fresh fruits and cheeses were available followed by coffee and cigars accompanied by port and, if desired, distilled spirits. If you have to have a last dinner, you could do a lot worse!

Now - tell us all - if you were a chef on the Titanic that night - what would your recipe be for one of the above dishes???

Please share!!

I’ll start with Roast Duckling with Applesauce:

  1. Apple sauce which is made as follows: 1 pound cooking apples, 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, 1/2 cup water, and sugar.
  2. Peel, core, and slice the apples, cook them in a stewpan with water and vegetable shortening, add a little sugar to taste.
  3. Stir well, or pass through a sieve.

Roast Duckling

  1. Epicures prefer young ducks, cooked rare, and when so prepared they are not stuffed.
  2. Should filling be preferred, use potato stuffing, putting it in very hot.
  3. Some people consider that ducks have a strong flavor, and to absorb this flavor lay cored and quartered apples inside the body.
  4. These apples are removed before the duck is sent to the table.
  5. Celery and onions also may be placed inside the duck to season it and improve the flavor, two tablespoons of chopped onion being used to every cup of chopped celery, which may consist of the green stalks that are not desired for the table.
  6. This stuffing is also removed from the bird before it is sent to the table.
  7. Truss the duck, sprinkle it with salt, pepper and flour, and roast in a very hot oven (400-480 degrees F.) Fifteen to thirty minutes provided the duck is young and is desired rare.
  8. Full-grown domestic ducks should be roasted at least one hour in an oven only moderately hot and should be basted every ten minutes.
  9. Serve with giblet gravy and apple sauce or grape or currant jelly.
  10. Green peas should also be served with roast duck.

Who’s next??