Remember the scene in James Cameron's Titanic where Cal orders Rose's lunch for her? “We'll both have the lamb, rare, with very little mint sauce. You like lamb, right sweet pea?” As it turns out, lamb was on the Titanic's first class lunch menu – on the day before the ship struck an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean.
It's hard to believe that something as insignificant as a menu could have survived a shipwreck that claimed the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew members, but several made their way onto lifeboats, stuffed into pants pockets or purses. As the years have gone on, the public's fascination with Titanic has never dwindled, and items recovered from the wreckage have been sold at auctions for thousands of dollars. In fact, in October 2015, a cracker salvaged from a passenger survival kit was purchased by a Titanic collector for $23,000!
While the Titanic's menus are an interesting look at popular foods of the early 20th century, they are also invaluable insight into some of the last experiences of those who perished on the early morning of April 15, 1912. From first and third class, we have the menus of April 14, and from second class, a breakfast menu from April 11 that doubled as a postcard. While some of the dishes will be unfamiliar, we'll do our best to explain them. For more details and full recipes, check out Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley.
This first class menu was saved by Abraham Salomon, a wealthy businessman from New York. Although he escaped the disaster with his life, his family reported that he was never the same after the incident, seldom speaking and preferring to keep to himself. He may have felt guilty for surviving while so many women and children perished, but considering that he was found on Lifeboat 1, it's doubtful that he was on the ship long enough to learn that there would not be enough lifeboats to save everyone.
Some of the dishes you may not recognize include:
- Cockie Leekie – Chicken soup with leeks.
- Eggs a L'Argenteuil – Eggs broiled in saltwater, then cooked in butter; topped with cream, croutons, and asparagus.
- Soused Herring – Herring soaked in hard apple cider.
- Potted Shrimp – Congealed shrimp and spiced butter, served with toast.
This second class breakfast menu from April 11 doubled as a postcard, and is one of two that survived. It was sent by Jacob Gibbons to his girlfriend when the boat stopped to pick up additional passengers in Ireland. Gibbons was among the 14 second class males to survive, out of a total of 168.
- Yarmouth Bloaters – Cold-smoked, salty herring.
- American Dry Hash Au Gratin – Corned beef served over potatoes, topped with butter and cheese.
- Vienna and Graham Rolls – A fresh-baked roll; crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
On the back of his note, Gibbons wrote, “Good voyage up to now.” In 2014, the postcard was sold at auction for an estimated $80,000.
Tragically, third class passengers were the last to get access to the lifeboats, and, as a result, died in the largest numbers. For example, while only one child from first class died, and all 24 were rescued from second class, 27 of the 79 third class children lost their lives. This is what they would have eaten on their very last day.
Of all of the menus, the third class contains many familiar foods that we still eat over one hundred years later! The only item that was unfamiliar to me was a “jacket potato,” which I learned is simply a fancy term for a baked potato topped with sour cream. It's interesting to note that while the dishes of the wealthy have fallen out of vogue over time, the hearty, healthy foods of the lower class, like porridge, eggs, and rice are still enjoyed today.
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