Monday, April 16, 2012

A Dinner to Remember

Ever since I was a kid, I have had a huge fascination with the Titanic. I was six years old when Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. My brother had a book of pictures from his explorations and when he was done with it, I quickly claimed that book as my own.

It's hard to believe that it's been 27 years since the wreckage was discovered...and 100 years since the Titanic sank.

Here is one very poignant quote
I found by Robert Ballard:

"The discovery was a celebratory moment at first, until the realization set in that the site was actually a mass graveyard. What really brought that message home, Ballard explained, were the pairs of shoes they found lying on the ocean floor. After the passengers either froze to death or drowned, their bodies sank...over the years, their bones dissolved into the seawater. All that remained was their shoes, which remained in pairs where they landed.

'When we saw those shoes, we saw the tombstones,' he said."

There is so much that I find fascinating about the story of the Titanic. The false confidence that was so overwhelming during the Guilded Age. The stark contrast between the opulence of the first class and the poverty of the third class. The changes--that now seem everyday and commonplace--that were made as a result of that disaster (for instance, the use of SOS for a distress signal and lifeboats for more than the capacity that a ship can carry). The amazing survival instincts that are just innate in some people. The heightening of human character--these kinds of tragedies bring out the best and the worst in people. Some people became heroes and others showed their cowardice.

Recently, during one of my mother's frequent trips to the library, she discovered a book called Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley. We were fascinated by this book. Not only did it contain actual recipes that were served on the last night of the Titanic's voyage, but it contained more historical anecdotes in regards to the Titanic, her passengers, and the times in which she was created.

You really should check out this wonderful book (ISBN-13: 978-0-7868-6303-7). My mom checked it out from the library...and renewed it two times (the limit). Then, I checked it out from the library and renewed it two times. And then we just bought the book because we knew it was a keeper!

So, we decided to try some of these recipes on the anniversary of the Titanic's sinking.

This book is fascinating because it includes the menus for first, second, and third class meals.

The book states "...none of the surviving passengers who ate at the A La Carte restaurant on that last evening tucked a copy of the menu into the pockets of a dinner jacket, so we can only surmise what the bill of fare included...The menu we present here is one we have invented based on the fragments of evidence describing what was actually eaten that night--caviar, lobster, and "plover eggs" (We've substituted quail eggs). This menu comprises a series of courses, following the classic pattern, that a knowledgeable diner might have chosen from a similar a la carte menu of the time. In all there are eight courses. A dessert of cheese and fruit makes an optional, but virtually obligatory, ninth course."

Below is the menu they have mapped out in their book (I'm sharing the English names for the dishes rather than the French ones).

First Class a la Carte Menu:

First Course--Hors D'Oeuvre: Quail Eggs in Aspic with Caviar served with White Bordeaux or White Burgundy (aspic is a fancy word for gelatin)

Second Course--Potage: Spring Pea Soup served with Madeira or Sherry

Third Course--Poisson: Lobster Thermidor with Duchess Potatoes served with Dry Rhine or Moselle

Fourth Course--Entree: Tournedos with Morels on a Bed of Braised Cabbage (tender beef and wild mushrooms) served with Red Bordeaux

Fifth Course--Punch or Sorbet: Rose Water and Mint Sorbet (palate cleanser)

Sixth Course--Roti: Quails with Cherries served with Red Burgundy

Seventh Course--Legume: Spring Asparagus Hollaindaise

Eight Course--Entremets: Fresh Fruit Salad and Orange Surprise served with Sweet Dessert Wines such as Muscatel, Tokay, Medeira.

Ninth Course--Les Desserts: Assorted fresh fruits and cheeses served with Sweet Dessert Wines, Champagne, or Sparkling Wine

After Dinner: Coffee, Cigars, Port, or Cordials


And THAT was for the a la carte restaurant.

The First-Class Dining Saloon had a menu of its own. The book states "Of the two menus that survive from the night of April 14, 1912, one comes from the first-class dining saloon. It is therefore possible to re-create in its entirety the sumptuous meal enjoyed by some of the ship's most renowned passengers--John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor and Ida Straus, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, et al."

That First-Class Dining Saloon Menu is as follows:

First Course--Hors D'Oeuvre: Canapes a l'amiral and Oysters a la Russe

Second Course--Soups: Consomme Olga and Cream of Barley Soup

Third Course--Fish: Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce

Fourth Course--Entrees: Chicken Lyonnaise; Filets Mignons Lili; and Vegetable Marrow Farci

Fifth Course--Removes: Lamb with Mint Sauce; Calvados-Glazed Roast Duckling with Applesauce; Roast Sirloin of Beef Forestiere; Chateau Potatoes; Minted Green Pea Timbales; and Creamed Carrots

Sixth Course--Punch or Sorbet: Punch Romaine

Seventh Course--Roast: Roasted Squab on Wilted Cress

Eighth Course--Salad: Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette

Ninth Course--Cold Dish: Foie gras marinated in Madeira with truffles

Tenth Course--Sweets: Waldorf Pudding; Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly; Chocolate Painted Eclairs with French Vanilla Cream; and French Vanilla Ice Cream

Eleventh Course--Dessert: cheese and fruit

After Dinner: coffee, cigars, port, and cordials.

Wow, I don't know about you, but after a dinner like that, it would be time to loosen those belts or corsets, ladies and gentlemen! I like this quote from the book "Stomachs have shrunk, for no one today could eat the meals that were swallowed as a matter of course fifty years ago." Noel Streatfeild, 1956.

The second class menu wasn't nearly as sumptuous as the first class menu, but it was still a fantastic meal. This second class menu was the second of only two menus from April 14, 1912 that survived the sinking of the Titanic. So, we know that it is accurate.

Here is the second class menu:

First Course--Soup: Consomme with Tapioca

Second Course--Main Dishes: Baked Haddock with Sharp Sauce; Curried Chicken and Rice; Lamb with Mint Sauce; Roast Turkey with Savory Cranberry Sauce; Turnip Puree; Green Peas; Boiled Rice; Boiled and Roast Potatoes

Third Course--Desserts: Plum Pudding with Sweet Sauce; Wine Jelly; Coconut Sandwich; American Ice Cream; Assorted Nuts; Fresh Fruit; Cheese; Biscuits

After Dinner: Coffee.

As for third class dining, no menus survive from April 14, 1912. But a menu from April 12, 1912 survived. The third class menus were printed for the day. It is difficult to read because it is water-stained, but it describes a breakfast consisting of oatmeal porridge and milk, smoked herrings, jacket potatoes, fresh rolls with butter, tea, and coffee.

Following the third class customs of the time, below you will find a menu that the authors created to approximate what they might have eaten on that last night.

3rd Class Menu:

Dinner: Vegetable Soup; Roasted Pork with Sage and Pearl Onions; Green Peas; Boiled Potatoes; Plum Pudding with Sweet Sauce; Cabin Biscuits; and Oranges.

Tea: Ragout of Beef with Potatoes and Pickles; Currant Buns; Fresh Bread and Butter; Apricots; and Tea.

Above: a picture of an actual biscuit from 1912 that was saved from one of the Titanic's lifeboats. We made some of our own following the book's recipe. You can find the recipe for Cabin Biscuits below with the other recipes.

In closing, the book talks about some of the kitchen staff and chefs continuing to make bread even after the ship collided with the iceberg. Up until a little after midnight, they went about their business preparing food for the following day.

Here is a fascinating story shared by this book regarding the Titanic's chief baker:

"When all the lifeboats had departed, more than half of the Titanic's passenger's and crew remained on the ship. One of these was the chief baker, Charles Joughin, who had passed a most eventful night. When first wakened by the impact, he had immediately organized a party of bakers to provision the lifeboats with any bread they could find. Then he had helped load the boats and even bullied reluctant passengers into leaving the sinking ship. For a long time, many refused to believe the 'unsinkable' Titanic was doomed. When all the boats were away, Joughin began throwing wooden chairs overboard for use as life rafts. Whenever he needed a break, he nipped back to his cabin on E-deck for a snort of whiskey. By the time the ship was about to sink, he seems hardly to have minded.

Passengers crowded to the stern as the bow sank, but few, if any, had baker Joughin's presence of mind or his ability to keep his balance as the stern lurched and twisted and stood up almost on end. Calmly, almost nonchalantly, he stepped over the starboard rail and began climbing the side of the ship until he stood on the upended stern. He cinched his lifebelt as the ship began its plunge, stepped calmly into the water, and swam gently away.

Thanks, presumably, to the alcohol in his blood acting as an anti-freeze, Joughin survived several hours in the icy water and emerged none the worse for the experience."

Wow. It's amazing how people can find so many different ways to perform acts of heroism. He did everything he could for others for as long as he could. And I am amazed at his presence of mind. For him to think of people needing food in the lifeboats in case help didn't come quickly and organizing his staff to put bread into the lifeboats was amazing. Then, to think of throwing chairs into the water to provide flotation devices for those in need? So smart. He may have been warmed up by whiskey, but his thought-processes were as clear and sharp as ever. It is stories like this that make these kinds of events stay in the minds and hearts of generations to come. Acts of incredible heroism in the face of tragedy like this are what buoy up our hope and faith in mankind.

So many stories...

And as you can tell from the menus above, just one evening's worth of food on this ship included a multitude of recipes. We were only able to try a handful. But I will share with you the ones we did try. And might I add that each and every recipe was fantastic. The cooks on the Titanic definitely knew what they were doing.

So, without further ado, let me share with you the wonderful recipes we tried. Oh, and as a nod to first class vs. third class social politics, we served our first class feast on paper plates!

Chicken Lyonnaise

First Class

This is one of the most delicious items on the first-class dinner menu. The sauce is from Lyons, considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of France, and employs two foods for which the area is renowned--onions from the Rhone Valley and poultry from Bresse.


1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine (or additional chicken stock)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp tomato paste
Pinch granulated sugar


In sturdy plastic bag, shake together flour, 1 tbsp of the thyme (or 1 1/2 tsp if using dried), salt, and pepper. One at a time, dip chicken breasts into egg, and then shake in flour mixture.

In large deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Cook, turning once, for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet and place in 225 degree F oven.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining oil to skillet. Stir in onions, garlic, and remaining thyme; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook onions, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Add wine (or chicken stock) to pan; cook, stirring to scrape up any brown bits, for about 1 minute or until reduced by half. Stir in stock, tomato paste, and sugar. Boil for 2 minutes or until beginning to thicken. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat, and cook for 5 minutes or until juices from chicken run clear. Makes 6 servings.

Notes: This was so good. The caramelized onions were delicious and the sauce was fantastic.

Creamed Carrots

First Class

The standard in Edwardian times was to cook vegetables until soft. Here, as a concession to modern tastes, we recommend cooking the carrots until easily pierced by a fork.


8 or 9 medium carrots, julienned
1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch of pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives


Place carrots in medium saucepan with enough water to cover; add cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for 6-8 minutes or until carrots are fork-tender. Drain, remove cinnamon stick, and return carrots to pan. Add butter, salt, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper; mix well. Add lemon juice and cream; boil for 1 minute or until cream is slightly thickened.

Adjust seasoning if necessary. Turn into shallow serving bowl; sprinkle with chives and serve. makes 6 servings.

Notes: The flavor of this was so addicting. It was unique and so delicious. The spices complemented the carrots so well.

Chauteau Potatoes

First Class

Called "chateau" because they were a country favorite of French nobility, these would go well with any of the removes. Chefs of the day used turning knives (crescent-moon-bladed paring knives) to cut the potatoes into eight-sided jewel shapes.


6 medium potatoes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper


Peel potatoes; using a turning knife, cut into eight-sided jewel shapes (alternatively, cut into thick, evenly shaped wedges). Meanwhile, place butter, oil, and rosemary in large, rimmed baking sheet. Set pan in 425 degree F oven for 2-3 minutes or until butter is sizzling.

Pat potatoes dry; place in heated pan and stir to coat with butter mixture. Bake in 425 degree F oven, stirring occasionally, for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings.

Notes: What in the world does this recipe mean by cutting the potatoes into "eight-sided jewel shapes" Is it a 3D octagon? At any rate, we simply peeled and sliced them.

Punch Rose (Rose Water and Mint Sorbet)

First Class

Although you can make your own rose water with organically grown rose petals, it can be found ready-made in a Middle Eastern market because it is still widely used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. Rose water became popular in the seventeenth century as a flavoring for desserts and would have been familiar to Edwardian palates.


1 1/2 cups rose water (see notes)
1 cup water
1/2 cup Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice


In blender or food processor, mix together rose water, water, simple syrup, mint leaves, and lemon juice. Blend until mint is finely chopped.

Pour into ice-cream maker and freeze following manufacturer's instructions. Or, pour mixture into chilled, shallow metal pan; cover and freeze for 2 hours or until firm. Break up into pieces and transfer to food processor; puree until smooth. Pour into chilled, airtight container; freeze for 20 minutes or until almost firm. Soften in refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving. Serve in chilled open champagne glasses or make ice bowls. Makes 2 1/2 cups and serves 4-6.

Simple Syrup


2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water


In large pot, combine sugar and water; cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to boil and cook for 1 minute or until syrup is clear. Let cool. (Syrup can be stored in a sterilized container in the refrigerator for up to one month.) Makes 2 cups.

Notes: Now, I like rose water. I really do. But this was really, really strong. Too strong for my tastes. It was almost like sorbet made from perfume. However, we decided that if it had less rose water in it, it would be fantastic. Just a hint of rose flavoring would have been lovely. This was just too much.

Here's how we would have broken down the ingredient list instead:

Revised Punch Rose Ingredient List:

1/2 cup rose water
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup Simple Syrup
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

Macedoine de fruits (Fresh Fruit Salad)

This light, sweet dish is named for the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great. It can be made from whatever combination of fresh fruit is on hand.


2 pears
2 peaches
2 plums
1/2 cup red currants or raspberries
2 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup Simple Syrup (recipe found above with the Rose Punch recipe)
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves
2 tbsp kirsch or rum, optional
1/4 cup slivered almonds, optional


Peel pears, peaches, and plums; dice into small, uniform pieces. Stir together diced fruit, currants or raspberries, and lemon juice. In blender, puree syrup and mint until liquefied; pour over fruit. Add kirsch or rum (optional); stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, spread almonds on rimmed baking sheet. Place in 350 degree F oven for 2 minutes or until lightly toasted. Sprinkle toasted almonds over fruit mixture just before serving. Makes servings.

Notes: We excluded the almonds because of my son's tree nut allergy. We also used raspberries instead of currants. But this was such a wonderful fruit salad. The mint and simple syrup gives it such a light and yet unique taste. I couldn't get enough of this!

Cabin Biscuits

Third Class

More like crackers than biscuits, these simple breads were a shipboard remedy for unsettled stomachs. In their original form, they were fairly unpalatable. here we offer some suggestions for making them more of a snack and less of a medicine.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp shortening
3/4 cup water


In bowl, mix together flour and salt. using fingertips, work shortening into flour until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Make well in dry ingredients and pour in water. Blend until mixture forms a stiff dough, adding up to 2 tsp extra water if necessary.

Place on lightly floured surface and roll into cylinder. Cut into 25 evenly sized pieces; loosely cover with plastic wrap; let rest for 15 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into 2 1/2 inch circle. Prick all over with fork. Place on ungreased baking sheet; bake in 375 degree F oven for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 25 biscuits.


Spray unbaked biscuits lightly with water and sprinkle with rock salt. Bake as above.

After 10 minutes of baking, sprinkle biscuits with Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley; bake for 5 minutes longer.

Before baking, brush unbaked biscuits lightly with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Notes: I doubled this recipe. For the first batch, I brushed it with butter and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar. For the second batch, I brushed it with butter and sprinkled it with small rock salt crystals. Personally, I preferred the rock salt version...they were similar to saltine crackers. But my sons liked the cinnamon and sugar batch better.

But to be honest, these aren't really that great tasting. Their purpose was to calm a queasy stomach or to provide basic sustenance if necessity called for it. However, for the sake of history, they are still interesting to make and try.


  1. Fantastic post!!! Very educational too. I so wish I could have joined you on this dinner to remember. Sounds like it was a hit. I so wish you had worn your heart of the ocean necklace though

  2. What an interesting story about the baker! Survival of the fittest, indeed. :)

    It was really interesting to me to see their use of fresh herbs and what it did for the tastebuds. Okay, yes, I couldn't even comprehend how to cut the potatoes. But the rosemary gave them the best flavor. They were so good and so easy; an easy side dish that would hold up with any meat.

    The fruit salad was amazingly good. What do you think about adding a touch of rum flavoring since we don't imbibe. :) I thought it interesting that the salad was kept at room temperature. It really helped the flavors pop. If it had been chilled, sometimes the flavors are a little muted.

    Now surprisingly, I expected to be spending hours cooking but it all came together fairly easily and quickly. Even chopping the fruits didn't take as long as I thought it would and I even tripled the recipe.

    All in all, this was a big hit of a meal. Great cookbook! I've heard that people have yearly Titanic dinners. We should have at least one more because I marked a lot of recipes that we didn't get to.