|RMS Titanic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
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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.