A truly Titanic meal. April 14, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: 100th anniversary of sinking of the Titanic, first-class dinner on The Titanic, food on the Titanic, Last Dinner on the Titanic, menu from the Titanic, recreate dinner on the Titanic, sinking of the Titanic, The Titanic, Titanic, what did people eat on the Titanic
Silence Dogood here. You’d think that yesterday, Friday the 13th, would be a day of sufficient ill-omen to last most months. But this is April, and today, the 14th, is normally the drop-dead date to file income taxes, a spectre far more terrifying to most of us than the 13th could ever be. (This year, thank God, our taxes aren’t due until the 17th.) But this April 14 bears another shadow: It’s the date that the great oceanliner Titanic sank, exactly 100 years ago, April 14, 1912, after an unexpected collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Sea.
There are plenty of ways to commemorate the tragedy, including heading to the movie theater to watch the 3-D re-release of James Cameron’s monster hit “Titanic.” (I’ve never seen it, so I’ve added it to our friend Ben’s and my Netflix queue—“very long wait”—rather than anteing up big bucks to watch it in nausea-inducing 3-D. I’ve also added the famous 1950s take on the sinking, “A Night to Remember,” and Julian Fellowes’s 2012 documentary series to our queue. Both also, sadly, “very long wait.”)
If, like me, you love food history, there’s another way to commemorate the Titanic tragedy. I found a fascinating book at a used-book store when our friend Ben and I were vacationing in scenic Asheville, North Carolina a few years ago called Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner (Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley, Hyperion, 1997).
The book is packed with photos, illustrations, menus, recipes, history, and memorabilia from the Titanic (and its nearly-identical sister ship, the Olympic), recalling the style of the bygone Gilded Age and leading up to the final meals eaten in the various dining facilities on board the Titanic on the fateful evening of April 14, 1912. Mere hours later, the ship’s hull was breached by an iceberg, and what may have been the foremost symbol of an age of excess was lost.
Lost, but not forgotten, in this case. Though the film “Titanic” certainly has kept the story in the popular imagination in our own day, the illustrious passenger list (including John Jacob Astor, presumed to be the world’s wealthiest man at the time, Benjamin Guggenheim, and a host of other wealthy magnates, as well as the Unsinkable Molly Brown) assured the event immortality in its own day.
The privileged classes are rarely the ones that suffer, and the shock of so many doing so at once reverberated through every layer of society. The wealthy leaders of society in that day dominated the gossip columns and tabloids the way Lady Gaga, Brangelina, the Kardashians, and Kate Middleton do in our own day: People just couldn’t get enough of them. It would be as though every major movie star, rock star, celebrity, and member of the British Royal Family boarded a single plane that then was hit by an asteroid and went down. “Titanic” is just the most successful of a steady stream of books and movies that have commemorated the disaster.
But to get back to the food. Amazingly, a copy survives of the menu served that final night in the first-class dining saloon. (And no, Jesse James and Buffalo Bill weren’t invited; why a dining salon was called a saloon on the world’s most luxurious ocean liner is beyond me, but so it was.) You can therefore recreate for yourselves the ultimate luxury dining experience, especially if you have the book, which provides a preparation timeline, elaborate details about how to create invitations and place settings, the order in which the eleven-course meal should be presented, how many people you’ll need to help you, and how many days it will take (four, not counting shopping for ingredients or cleaning up afterwards) to prepare this feast in a modern home kitchen. Plus, of course, the book provides recipes.
I’m going to share that menu for you just for fun. At first, it might look more upscale but not all that different from a modern menu. But there’s one little difference: Each diner was supposed to partake of every single super-rich dish on this menu. And bear in mind that each course was served separately, then removed before the arrival of the subsequent course, quite a series of ceremonial processions, rather like a banquet at the court of Henry VIII or Louis XIV.
Now, you might choose either the consomme or the cream soup, pass on the vegetable farcie or lamb, and decide that just one type of potato was adequate, maybe even skip the ice cream. But you would be presented with every dish, and most people indulged in quite a spread. Not to mention the different wine or wines that accompanied each course. There was no concept here of getting away with “I’ll have the oysters, filet mignon, green peas and Parmentier potatoes, asparagus salad, and peaches in Chartreuse jelly, please.” Oh, no. To eat like an Astor, you’d be expected to tackle this meal in its entirety:
First Course: Hors d’Oeuvre
Hors d’OEuvre Varies
Second Course: Soups
Cream of Barley
Third Course: Fish
Salmon, Mousseline Sauce, Cucumber
Fourth Course: Entrees
Filet Mignons Lili
Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise
Vegetable Marrow Farcie
Fifth Course: Removes
Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes
Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes
Sixth Course: Punch or Sorbet
Seventh Course: Roast
Roast Squab & Cress
Eighth Course: Salad
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette
Ninth Course: Cold Dish
Pate de Fois Gras
Tenth Course: Sweets
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs
French Ice Cream
Eleventh Course: Dessert
Assorted Fresh Fruits & Cheeses
Port or Cordials
Feeling full yet? I’d assumed for years that the serving portions were considerably smaller than today’s “Supersize Me” versions. But after reading about the monstrous meals consumed by the French Victorian-era novelist Honore de Balzac, I have to wonder. No doubt the tightly corseted women of the Gibson Girl era could only manage a few bites, but it’s amazing that the men weren’t titanic themselves. The amount of food consumed was staggering, and after all the liquid refreshment generously poured with every course, I don’t understand why they all weren’t literally staggering, but I digress.
Getting back to the Astors, the book’s authors admit one defeat in the course of their researches: They were unable to find a recipe for Waldorf Pudding. (Think Waldorf-Astoria.) So they made one up using ingredients from today’s version of Waldorf Salad! Shame on them! I’m sure it was no such thing. The signature pudding of a famous contemporary hotel, San Francisco’s Hotel St. Francis, was Pink Pudding Victor (named for the hotel’s celebrated chef), a very sweet pink fruited rice pudding served with fruit sauce.
Looking this up made me wonder what was in the original Waldorf Salad, anyway. The recipe given in The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book (1919) reads as follows: “Waldorf salad. Half white celery and half apple, cut in small squares. Put both in salad bowl, but do not mix. Cover with mayonnaise and season to taste.” Season to taste with what?! And thank goodness I don’t have to cut celery in small squares! I’m sure blanched celery must still be available, like blanched (white) asparagus, though I’ve never seen any. And what’s the deal with “do not mix”? I guess it was a layered salad, with mayonnaise as the top layer. Oh well, at least the mayo would have been house-made.
Back to the Titanic. It may take us moderns four days to prepare an eleven-course meal. What I’m wondering is, how long must it take to eat one?!
‘Til next time,