Friday, April 13, 2012

"Titanic" Lore

The sinking of the ocean liner RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, was a major sea disaster that still rivets the collective imagination. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the night the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank beneath the cold surface of the North Atlantic, and much has been and will be written about the ship and her passengers. To round out the historical details that have become part of the Titanic lore, we present here some information about the provisioning of the ship for her maiden voyage.

The Titanic was carrying 2,207 passengers (below capacity) and 898 crewmembers. To feed this number during the planned ocean crossing, an enormous amount of food had to be loaded on board. The list of provisions included 75,000 pounds of fresh meat, 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 7,500 pounds of bacon and ham, 25,000 pounds of poultry, and 2,500 pounds of sausages; 40,000 fresh eggs; 40 tons of potatoes, 3,500 pounds of onions, 3,500 pounds of tomatoes, and 2,500 pounds of fresh peas; 800 bundles of asparagus and 7,000 heads of lettuce; 2,200 pounds of coffee and 800 pounds of tea; 250 barrels of flour and 10,000 pounds of sugar; 36,000 oranges, 16,000 lemons, 36,000 apples, and 13,000 grapefruits; 1,500 gallons of milk, 1,200 quarts of fresh cream, and 6,000 pounds of butter; 20,000 bottles of beer and stout, 1,500 bottles of wine, 15,000 bottles of mineral waters; and 8,000 cigars. The very numbers seem incredible, even to those of us who buy “in bulk” at some of the big box stores, but the ship’s supply officers were quite experienced and knew exactly how much each passenger would require during the course of the voyage.
The Titanic was a luxury liner in every sense of that word, and her architects and designers spared no expense to ensure that the accommodations would satisfy the high expectations of the passengers, for whom dining was perhaps the most important social occasion. The first-class dining saloon on “D” deck was the largest room on the ship, 114 feet long by 92 feet wide (the full width of the ship) and could seat more than 550 diners at once. It was very richly decorated, painted in a “peanut white” color, with sturdy oak and leather furnishings. Here is the official description of the saloon: “It is an immense room decorated in a style peculiarly English, reminiscent of early Jacobean times; but instead of the somber oak of the 16th and 17th centuries, it is painted a soft, rich white, which, with the coved and richly-molded ceilings and the spacious character of the apartment, would satisfy the most aesthetic critic. The furniture is of oak designed to harmonize with its surroundings.” China bearing the White Star Line logo, crystal stemware, starched linen tablecloths and napkins, and silver utensils and service completed the decor.
Adjacent to the dining saloon was a large (54 feet long) reception area where the first-class passengers gathered to socialize before going in to dinner. After dinner, many of the men would have repaired to the Georgian-style smoking room on “A” deck, accessible from the dining saloon by means of the Grand Staircase, an ornate double stairway that extended through four deck levels beneath a glass dome with iron grillwork. The women, meanwhile, may have taken their ease on the verandah café or the palm court on “A” deck, sipping after-dinner coffee and enjoying the music of the ship’s orchestra.
For Sunday, April 14, 1912, the menu for the first-class luncheon, which was served from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m., consisted of consommé fermier; cock-a-leekie soup; fillets of brill; egg à l’Argenteuil; chicken à la Maryland; corned beef with vegetable dumplings or grilled mutton chops; mashed, fried, or baked jacket potatoes; custard pudding; lemon meringue; and pastry. If passengers missed the luncheon seating, there was also a 24-hour buffet that served dishes such as salmon mayonnaise, potted shrimps, Norwegian anchovies, soused herrings, plain and smoked sardines, roast beef, round of spiced beef, veal and ham pie, Virginia and Cumberland ham, bologna sausage, brawn, galantine of chicken, corned ox tongue, lettuce, beetroot, and tomatoes. A cheese board consisted of Cheshire, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Edam, Camembert, Roquefort, St. Ivel, and cheddar. Finally, Munich lager beer was available on draught.
Sunday dinner was served from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. For the first-class passengers, the menu was quite extensive: Hors D’Oeuvres Variés, Oysters, Consommé Olga, Cream of Barley Soup, Salmon with Mousseline Sauce and Cucumber, Filets Mignons Lili, Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise, Vegetable Marrow Farcie, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duckling with Apple Sauce, Sirloin of Beef with Château Potatoes, Green Peas and Creamed Carrots, Boiled Rice, Parmentier and Boiled New Potatoes, Punch Romaine, Roast Squab and Cress, Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, Pâté de Foie Gras with Celery, Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Éclairs, and French Ice Cream. Truly an elegant meal to mark the first Sunday of the Titanic’s voyage, and one for which the diners dressed even more splendidly than usual!

Without a doubt, such fare impressed the passengers. Even the passengers who were not wealthy enough to travel first class enjoyed some wonderful repasts. Just a month after the disaster, Charlotte Collyer, who was traveling second class, recounted her four-course dinner of April 14: “At dinner time I was at my place in the saloon and enjoyed the meal, though I thought it too heavy and rich. No effort had been spared to give even the second cabin passengers on that Sunday the best dinner that money could buy.”[1]

The menus were fashioned after the kind of food served at the Ritz hotels so popular in Europe at the time and brought to public attention by the French master chef Auguste Escoffier. Some Titanic enthusiasts have suggested that as the meal came to an end, the first-class guests were served fresh fruit and cheese. This idea is based on the witness of one survivor who mentioned that every table was feted with a large basket of fruit, including incredibly large and delectable bunches of grapes. This goes beyond elegance to the point of overkill, and since it was not listed on the menu itself, it’s possible that the witness was referring to the cheeses and fruits available in the buffet for the guests to take to their staterooms, to help stave off hunger pains until the next feast could be had.

By 1912 it had become the tradition to serve coffee at the end of a good meal, probably either a drip blend or some sort of Turkish variety, much like today’s espresso. This was accompanied by port, post-dining liqueurs, and, for the gentleman, cigars.[2]

[1] Collyer, Charlotte, “Survivor’s True Story,” American Semi Monthly Magazine (May 1912), as reprinted in Donald Hyslop et al., Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, 133.
[2] Archbold, Rick, and Dana McCauley. Last Dinner on the Titanic. Toronto: Madison Press Books, 1997, 90.

For those who wish to savor a taste of Titanic fare, we’ve recreated some of the dishes on the first-class dinner menu, based upon research into the ingredients, flavors, and methods in use in aristocratic kitchens at that time. Be bold and brave, and bon appétit!

Cream of Barley Soup

vegetable oil
½ c. bacon, finely chopped
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
2 lg. shallots
1 parsnip
3 carrots
1 stalk celery
1 c. pearl barley
7 c. beef stock
1 bay leaf
¾ c. whipping cream
2 Tbsp. bourbon
1 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour a bit of vegetable oil into a large saucepan, and heat the bacon and garlic, stirring while cooking for several minutes. Chop the shallots, parsnip, carrots, and celery into small pieces and add them to the pot. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, about 10 minutes or so. Stir in the barley, then pour in the stock, add the bay leaf, and bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the barley is chewy, about 50 minutes.

Remove from heat, and discard the bay leaf. Transfer the soup cupful by cupful to a blender and puree well, then pour into a clean pot.

Cook the puree over a medium heat until it begins to steam, stirring all the while so that the mixture does not burn the bottom of the pot. Fold in the cream, bourbon, and vinegar and warm gently (do not allow it to boil). Salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: 8-12 servings

Sauté of Chicken Lyonnaise

⅓ c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
3 eggs, beaten
6 boneless chicken breasts
4 Tbsp. butter
5 shallots, thinly sliced
5 chanterelle mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. white wine
½ c. cognac
½ c. chicken stock
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. granulated sugar

In a large bowl, mix the flour, thyme, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly (just to break up the yolks). Dip each chicken breast in the eggs, then cover with the flour mixture.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet or electric frying pan. Place the breasts in the pan and cook for 10 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside, covered.

Add the remaining butter to the pan, and stir in shallots, mushrooms, and garlic; cook until golden brown. Add the wine and cognac and cook for about 1 minute, then add the stock, tomato paste, and sugar. Boil for several minutes so that the mixture begins to thicken. Return the chicken to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, turning once.

Serve on a large decorative platter.

Yield: 6 servings

Green Peas (Pea Timbales)

3 c. water
1 tsp. salt
4 c. peas, fresh or frozen (thawed)
3 sm. pearl onions, finely chopped
¼ c. very fine plain breadcrumbs
2 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
¼ tsp. Cayenne
2 eggs
¼ c. Parmesan cheese, grated
½ c. whipping cream
sour cream
mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a small pot; add the peas and cook for only 2 minutes or so. Drain and run under cold water until cool.

Place the peas, onions, breadcrumbs, mint, and Cayenne in a blender and whir for 1–2 minutes; with the motor running, add the eggs, then slowly pour in the Parmesan cheese and the whipping cream. Blend well.

Lightly grease a large muffin pan with Crisco®, making sure the surface and sides of every well are oiled to prevent sticking. Pour the pea mixture into each well, filling it about two-thirds full. Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes; using a rubber spatula, go around the edges and carefully spoon the pea muffins onto a large platter. Decorate each with a dollop of sour cream and a mint leaf.

Yield: 12 servings

Punch Romaine

1 c. water
2 c. sugar
1 c. dry white wine
2 c. dry champagne
juice of 2 oranges
juice of 2 lemons
Italian meringue
2 c. white rum, very well chilled
slivered orange and lemon peel

Bring the water to a boil, then pour in the sugar. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, remove from heat and set aside, allowing it to cool for 15 minutes or so.

Combine the wine, champagne, sugar-and-water mixture, and orange and lemon juices in a large plastic pitcher that can go into the freezer. Chill the mixture until it is just beginning to set, like a glace or sherbet. Add the meringue (see next) to it, and chill for ½ hour more.

Pour the frozen mix into an individual dessert cup, and drizzle white rum that has been freezer chilled over each mound. Decorate with a sliver of orange or lemon peel, and serve immediately.

Italian Meringue
¼ c. water
¾ c. granulated sugar
6 egg whites

Dissolve sugar into water and cook until 250°F (use a candy thermometer). Beat egg whites with a hand mixer until they form stiff peaks. Pour sugar syrup into egg whites; increase speed of mixer, and beat until cooled.

Yield: 6 –8 servings

Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly

(A chartreuse in French cooking is a dish that has been turned out of a mold, sometimes made of meat or vegetables, but more usually of fruit within jelly. This is an old recipe that is labor intensive, a good sign that the end product is something special!)

4 lg. peaches
4 c. water
2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
¼ c. orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
½ tsp. allspice
fresh mint
edible flowers

2 pkg. powdered gelatin
2 c. water
½ c. sugar

Remove the skin and stones from the peaches and cut them into small pieces. Combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add the vinegar, orange juice, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, and peaches to the pot and bring to a boil once again. Reduce the heat to a simmer and poach the peaches in the spicy liquid until they are soft, 6 –10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then refrigerate for several hours.

In the meantime, combine the gelatin with 1 cup of water in a medium-size bowl. Bring the second cup of water to a boil and dissolve the sugar in it. Add the hot mixture to the softened gelatin, and pour into a prechilled large mold; allow to cool. Add 2 cups of the peach syrup to the gelatin, then refrigerate until very thick (about 1 hour).

After 1 hour, drain the peaches of their remaining syrup and remove the whole cinnamon and cloves. Pour the peaches into the thickened gelatin mold, and chill until firm.

When serving, upend the mold onto a bed of fresh mint surrounded by edible flowers.

Yield: 6 –8 servings