BrooklynFans Of Books: The Last Night On The Titanic

The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining, & Style

By Veronica Hinke

Regnery History; hardcover, $29.99; available Tuesday, April 2

The sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, has captivated the hearts and fascinations of generations since, as countless stories of that night’s horror have been told for over a century.

Expert food writer Veronica Hinke shows a lighter side to this sad story in her new book The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining, & Style. She transports readers aboard the Titanic in the hours just before its demise through true, firsthand stories from passengers between examples of unprecedented luxury that will touch you hearty and delight your senses.

Hinke takes you into this glittering world of sophistication at sea through actual menus and recipes of first class meals, the glamorous newly-invented styles, and classically-elegant cocktails.

There are recipes for Oysters a la Russe, Chicken and Wild Mushroom Vol-au-Vents, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, and dozens of other scrumptious dishes for readers to recreate in their own kitchens. There is also a rare printed menu from the last first class dinner on the Titanic. There are behind-the-scenes accounts of the Titanic’s staff like that of chief baker Charles Joughin, who survived the wreck by drinking a bottle of schnapps.

Hinke’s incredible attention to detail can be seen in her writing on the final dinner menu, “Titanic captain Edward John Smith did not survive the sinking of his ship. But in the first days and weeks afterwards, his conduct came under intense public scrutiny – particularly with regard to a dinner party he attended the night the ship struck the iceberg. George D. Widener of Philadelphia and his wife Eleanor hosted a special dinner party for Captain Smith in the Titanic‘s a la carte restaurant.

“Newspapers printed a message to survivors from Captain Smith’s wife. On April 18, it was posted outside the offices of the White Star Line: ‘To my poor fellow sufferers – my heart overflows with grief for you all and is laden with sorrow that you are weighed down with this terrible burden that has been thrust upon us. May God be with us and comfort us all. Yours in deep sympathy. Eleanor Smith.’

“The Wideners were traveling back to the U.S. from Paris, which they had visited with their son Harry, originally with the intention of finding a chef for Widener’s new Philadelphia hotel, The Ritz Carlton. Eleanor Widener had three necklaces with her on board the Titanic worth $700,000. Today this would be nearly $18 million. The Thayers and Carters, also first class passengers, attended the Widener dinner, as did President Taft’s aide, Major Archibald Butt, and Clarence Moore, traveling Master of Hounds.

“The Titanic’s a la carte restaurant, where the Wideners hosted the dinner party for Captain Smith, was another novelty aboard the great ship. For the first time ever, passengers could pick and choose items from a menu whenever they pleased from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.

“On the night the Titanic hit the iceberg, Dr. William Francis Normal O’Loughlin, the ship’s surgeon, dined near the Widener dinner party for Captain Smith. As dinner progressed, the jubilance increased. Dr, O’Loughlin stood up and gave a hearty toast ‘to the mighty Titanic‘ – and everyone cheered.

“We may never know what was for dinner during this private affair honoring Captain Smith. The menu would have been different from what other first class passengers ate. But because of a number of menus that were tucked into pockets of some first class passengers who ate in the dining room that night, we do know what the other first class passengers ate.

“First Class passenger Adolphe Saaifeld saved a first class menu from the last night on the Titanic in his jacket pocket. When he was picked up by one of the lifeboats while fighting for his life in the freezing Atlantic, all that Saaifeld had was the clothes and life vest around him – and the items in his pocket, including the menu. Another of the few first class dinner menus that survived from April 14 was carried off the Titanic by department store executive J.I. Flynn, a first class passenger who survived the sinking. By 1938, Flynn had been offered $3.000 for the menu, but he said he ‘wouldn’t lose it for anything.’ When Flynn was abruptly awakened by crew announcing that the ship had hit an iceberg, he leapt out of bed, threw on his overcoat, and ran on deck. Flynn and fellow first class passenger Edward Calderhead stood on deck watching crew load women and children into lifeboats. Then, suddenly, the crew members turned to the two men and asked them to man the boat for the ladies. They were picked up by the Carpathia, and when they arrived in New York City, Flynn realized he had his dinner menu from that fateful night still tucked in his overcoat.

The menu for the last first class dinner aboard the Titanic indicates that the meal started with a variety of hors d’oeuvres. For a simple appetizer for a Titanic-themed party,  smear some shrimp or crab butter on toast points. Oysters were also served for dinner that night. A simple, classic preparation for oysters is Oysters a la Russe – oysters in a sauce made with horseradish, vodka, a bit of lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, diced tomato, and chiffonade chives with a bit of sugar and salt.”

Veronica Hinke has been researching the Titanic for as long as she can remember. she has interviewed hundreds of experts on lifestyles, foods, and drinks for Tribune Media and maintains close working relationships with leading chefs and mixologists around the world. Her report, “Titanic Cocktails,” appeared in Wine Enthusiast magazine, and it honored the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, and was blogged by the Village Voice. She currently resides just outside of Chicago, Illinois.

The Last Night on the Titanic is one of the most comprehensive and enlightening books you will read on what riding the luxury liner was like and give you a taste of the styles of the rich and famous from a century ago.

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