By , Reed Tucker
Published April 02, 2019
This ship was certainly king of the world when it came to cuisine. The Titanic, which sank 107 years ago this month, was more than four city blocks long, as tall as an 11-story building and as grand as a luxury hotel — especially when it came to dining and drinking.
It was equipped with five kitchens employing 60 chefs and assistants turning out cuisine fit for the finest tables in Europe and New York. Piles of oysters and crates of seasonal vegetables, fresh game and other delicacies packed the ship’s hull.
For a glimpse into what dining was like on history’s most famous doomed ocean liner, there’s “The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style” (Regnery History), a new book by food writer Veronica Hinke.
“So many people are so mesmerized by the food,” Hinke tells The Post. “I was really intrigued by it because it gives us insight into what these people’s lives were like.”
Of the 2,224 people on the Titanic, an estimated 1,516 died when it sank in the early-morning hours of April 15, 1912. Much of what is known about the food served aboard comes from menus tucked into the pockets of survivors.
Irwin Flynn was a buyer for New York’s now-defunct Gimbel Brothers department store. He was dining in first class the night the ship hit the iceberg. He had his dining companions sign his menu, and he stuffed it into his overcoat pocket because it would not fit into the one on his tuxedo.
When the ship’s hull was punctured at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, Flynn was in bed. He grabbed his coat and a life vest, headed up to the deck and made it onto a lifeboat, from which he was ultimately rescued.
The menu reveals an opulent feast — a 10-course extravaganza that would likely bust the gut of modern-day gourmands.
The dinner began with appetizers, including oysters. (The Titanic was loaded with 1,221 quarts of the shellfish before she left Southampton, England, and may have picked up more during a stop in Ireland.)
The starter was followed by consommé Olga, a veal broth with wine and vegetables.
Then came salmon with mousseline sauce and cucumbers, a fish dish covered in a heavy sauce of cream, egg yolks, lemon juice and melted butter.
Full yet? It’s entree time, and diners had a choice of filet mignon topped with foie gras and truffles or chicken Lyonnaise, a French preparation that likely meant meat sautéed in a red-wine-vinegar sauce.
Then diners actually tucked into a second entree: lamb with mint sauce, roast beef or roast duck.
After a quick palate cleanser of punch Romaine (an alcoholic slushie made with rum, egg whites, lemon juice and Champagne poured over crushed ice), it was time for the home stretch. The seventh through 10th courses consisted of roast squab, cold asparagus (the ship stocked at least 800 bundles), foie gras and a selection of desserts, including ice cream.
Dining in the era of “Downton Abbey” was often a tedious and stuffy affair, and a meal could last for hours. For those looking to replicate the experience, several restaurants have in recent years re-created this meal, including a high-end Hong Kong hotel charging nearly $2,000 per person.
First-class lunch didn’t offer much of a break, with some 40 dishes offered. A lunch menu from April 14 was tucked into the purse of Ruth Dodge, who was traveling with her husband, Washington, and their 4-year-old son. The family was returning to America from Paris.
When the ship began sinking, Ruth and the boy made it onto one of the first lifeboats. Washington remained behind but got aboard a lifeboat when, he claimed, a crewman told him to “tumble in.”
He later described hearing distant cries as his boat rowed away from the sinking vessel. “To my ear . . . the awful fact was borne in upon me that many lives were perishing in those icy waters.”
Ruth’s menu shows lunch diners were enjoying cockie leekie, a fowl-based soup with egg yolks and prunes. There were also mashed and fried potatoes, grilled mutton chops and corned beef.
Beyond that, diners could nosh from a heaping buffet that included potted shrimps, roast beef and smoked herring.
Those traveling in third class didn’t eat all that badly, either. They took their meals in one of two dining rooms on the middle deck with a joint capacity of 473.
“Even in steerage, the food was much better than it would have been on other ships,” Hinke says. “The bigger meal of the day was lunchtime, and it was usually a brown gravy and beef.”
Supper was lighter and often consisted of biscuits, cheese and gruel.
The nearly 1,000 employed on the ship were not neglected, either, which we know from a crew menu that made its way off the ship in the pocket of steward Edenser Wheelton. He was asleep when the boat hit the iceberg, and after assisting others into lifeboats, he escaped himself.
His handwritten menu lists a lunch of fried sole, grilled chicken, porterhouse steak and lobster tail, among other substantial offerings.
When it came to drinking, the atmosphere aboard the Titanic was jovial, to say the least.
“This was pre-Prohibition,” Hinke says. “It was a fascinating time because no one knew what was to come. They were at the height of their indulgence.”
The ship’s manifest listed some 850 bottles of spirits, and bottles of the high-end bubbly Heidsieck & Co have been recovered from the wreck site.
Many of the cocktails quaffed onboard are today largely unknown to all but the most seasoned mixologists. Hinke theorizes that Prohibition changed people’s lives so suddenly, many of the recipes were lost or had simply fallen out of fashion when booze was again legalized.
One popular tipple of the time was the Clover Club, a pink drink made with gin, raspberry syrup, lemon juice and egg whites.
The drink was invented in Philadelphia but came to prominence after it was introduced at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. A 1910 newspaper article boasted that “all of the actors drink it now.” (You can still get one at Brooklyn’s aptly named Clover Club.)
The Bronx, which one newspaper at the time raved was “the golden dream of alcoholic delight,” used oranges, which at the time were still a luxury item.
It was invented at the Waldorf-Astoria after a waiter challenged a bartender to come up with something new. The bartender blended gin, orange juice and Italian and French vermouths and named it “The Bronx,” because he had recently visited the borough’s zoo.
The Titanic passengers also drank milk punches, a dairy-based concoction often made with brandy, bourbon or gin.
And then there was beer. It’s unclear exactly which and how many kinds were aboard, but we know from a single line at the bottom of a first-class lunch menu that “iced draught Munich lager” was available.
The brew was made by Wrexham Lager, a Welsh brewery founded some three decades earlier by two German immigrants who were attempting to make beer of the style they enjoyed back home.
The author hopes that, for readers, food and drink will be a way into learning about those who were aboard the ship, more than two-thirds of whom lost their lives.
“What these people went through this night that was unimaginable, and we wanted to honor them through the lens of culinary,” Hinke says. “The things that they would have been eating and the way that they would have lived is a story told so well through the food.”
This story originally appeared on the New York Post.