With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic just days away, news coverage of the disaster has kept apace — understandably so. It’s a riveting event in our modern history. A true nightmare whose retelling by the survivors causes you to freeze, fingers poised, mouth agape at the details. The stories, on many a level, are eviscerating.
Yet there is a twinge of romanticism in our collective remembrance of the Titanic. It’s the era, isn’t it? The incredible opulence of the ship, the lifestyles of the first-class passengers who boarded it — what they carried with them, what they wore and were adorned with before the ship went down. Photos of retrieved objects and Hollywood’s re-creations, of course, feed our imagination.
But the Titanic was an entire self-contained community afloat for over a week. What did they feed all those souls needing nourishment for the course of the voyage to New York? The ship sailed from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, with 800 bundles of asparagus, forty thousand fresh eggs, forty thousand sausages. And so much more edible fare, not to mention the necessary cutlery, the dishes, the glassware, the linens, the teacups. Here’s how we know: the menus survive.
First-class passengers were served an 11-course à la carte meal the evening of April 14, 1912, which began with hors d’ouevres and oysters and ended with “Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs and French Ice Cream.” The courses served in between fall one step short of orgiastic — an incongruent term, on the face of it, with which to describe Edwardian times. (For a visual of what that 11-course meal looks like, check out the photo gallery posted today by HuffPost Food Canada).
On that same morning, April 14, Titanic’s third-class passengers had a breakfast that included “Oatmeal Porridge & Milk, Smoked Herrings, Jacket Potatoes…and Swedish Bread” (view the full day’s menu here). The Second Class dinner menu that evening was hearty, if not as sumptuous as the First Class fare, with entrees of “Baked Haddock, Sharp Sauce; Curried Chicken & Rice; Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce; Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce.”
Apparently, White Star Line, makers of the Titanic, hoped to continually attract third-class passengers on trans-Atlantic crossings. The ship’s steerage was therefore outfitted with upgraded accommodations and its occupants served three square meals a day. Note the fine print at the bottom of the Third Class menu for April 14:
Any complaint respecting the Food supplied, want of attention or incivility, should be at once reported to the Purser or Chief Steward. For purposes of identification, each Steward wears a numbered badge on the arm.
To be sure, the Titanic was stocked with enough food to feed her 2,224 passengers to a varying degree of sophistication — right down to the garnish — for her maiden voyage from England to America. Her menus document a particular time in history, one of culturally acceptable segregation by class. While three square meals were offered the 709 passengers traveling Third Class, those same menus clearly reflect a social hierarchy that in turn mirrors the rates of survival from the Titanic — men, women and children alike.
If you’re enthralled by the foods served on the Titanic, this cookbook is for you: Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold.