The Titanic sank 100 years ago on April 15th, 1912. It is extraordinary that even after 100 years, the doomed Titanic continues to fascinate.
My friends at 12 Bottle Bar and I are in a Titanic mood as the anniversary approaches, and why not? There is so much to share about the voyage, the ship and the people –– what they ate (my field of interest) –– what they drank (cocktails are the 12 Bottle Bar bailiwick) –– so much that we decided to do another post together. Two blogs, two perspectives… if you’ve never been to 12 Bottle Bar you are in for a Titanic treat. They are kicking off their celebration “The Year of The Doctor” (Dr Who) by giving you an idea of what was going on in 1912 and with a history of the only drink mentioned on Titanic menus, Punch Romaine… brilliant, as Dr. Who might say.
One of the reasons for the enduring power of the Titanic myth is the impossibly successful 1997 film that has brought the story to new generations with the sweet frothy addition of a totally fictional love story between Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) billowing about in a sea of mostly accurate facts and great production design. Lest you forget how great, they are releasing it in 3D this year.
But honestly, why create a fictional plot? The Titanic had so many remarkable true stories without making anything up. The real stories of heroes and cowards, love stories and tragedies are so much more affecting. Some of the tragedies were even visited upon those who survived, most notably Joseph Bruce Ismay, one of the owners of the Titanic and White Star Line.
J.Bruce Ismay 1862-1937
Although he survived the disaster, J. Bruce Ismay was absolutely destroyed by the American press, especially William Randolph Hearst (a reputed Anglophobe who disliked Ismay intensely after meeting him a few years earlier). Hearst labeled him “J. Brute Ismay”, “Coward of the Titanic”. Ismay was one of the few men who didn’t perish that night (only 19% of the men on the ship survived). Admittedly, that looks pretty damning –– especially since he was supposed to have caused the disaster with his recklessness.
Contrary to many rumored reports, there is no proof that Ismay was responsible for the Titanic speeding through the iceberg-infested waters (some of the boilers had not even been turned on yet, and a coal strike in Britain inspired frugal use of power, not high-speed wastefulness). White Star ships were known for comfort, not speed (as many letters written by Ismay over the years attest). Also, arriving early did no one any good since elaborate arrangements would have been made for a specific time by and for the crew and passengers… arriving early would have caused quite a tangle.
There is a recent report from an ancestor of an officer on the Titanic that Ismay did tell Captain Smith to keep the ship moving and that made her sink faster. As for not having enough lifeboats because they cluttered the deck –– that was true and Ismay’s decision –– but he had more than the amount that was required at the time. One of the great tragedies of the Titanic was that so many lifeboats were jettisoned half empty, hundreds more lives could have been saved if they had been full… that was not his doing. The efforts were chaotic and too many passengers went to one place, too few to others and people didn’t know until too late that the ship was going to sink completely. The damage shouldn’t have been catastrophic but for a horrible confluence of circumstances. There may have been very little loss of life had a nearby ship, the SS Californian, heeded distress calls (radio operators weren’t on duty 24/7 then and the Titanic’s flares were misinterpreted as there were no protocols in place). The next nearest ship, the RMS Carpathia, took hours to get there. By that time, the ship had disappeared into the black frigid waters.
All accounts of Ismay’s deeds that night were straightforward. He was observed helping women and children board lifeboats for 2 hours. Then, when the last rubber raft was let down and there were no other people in sight on his part of the ship (this was verified by many observers), Ismay boarded a rubber raft filled with 3rd–class passengers. Ismay knew there weren't enough lifeboats –– however, he may not have known that the ship was going to sink before help arrived when he got on his raft... they had seen the lights of the SS Californian.
Size of the Titanic compared with recognizable buildings of the day
Remember the ship was “Titanic” with many decks and blocked passages and the ship’s rear end was going down so it would have been an impassible mountain of metal –– it is possible his group did not know there were a thousand people on the other side of the ship who did not have life boat space… there was no one else waiting where Ismay was boarding, according to eyewitness reports (although those reports could have been self-serving). I am thinking he left before the panic set in (many didn’t want to leave the comfortable ship for the lifeboats… people wouldn’t believe the massive vessel would sink completely –– it had been such a small bump, afterall, many didn’t notice it). It is possible that when he boarded the raft it seemed like leaving was a choice, not the only way to survive. By the time he realized this was not the case, there was little that could be done save jumping into the water.
Ismay’s hair turned white overnight (possibly the result of seeing The Titanic go under, revealing all the people freezing to death in the water with the horrifying spectacle of the half empty boats refusing to come to their rescue for fear of overloading their crafts).
He lived the rest of his life branded a coward and a villain. These positive reports could have been paid for, I imagine, but I can’t help but think he didn’t deserve the vile reputation he got. We’ll never know if he had poor judgment or was a miserable coward saving his own life while letting innocents die.
On the other side, there were so many stories of the crew’s courage –– like the members of the band who played as the ship went down to keep spirits up, or of Captain Smith who went down with his ship (advising calm, he ordered “Be British boys, be British”) and the architect of the ship, Mr. Andrews who perished trying to keep things going as long as he could.
There were stories of enormous sacrifice and cruel selfishness. As is often said, disaster brings out the best and the worst in man.
Since Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, I thought I would share a beautiful Titanic story that was not at all fictional… it is a story that is true and fine. The lovers in the story were not young or beautiful, but they were in love and had been for over 40 years. It was said they died as they had lived –– with kindness and honor and great love and devotion.
Isidor and Ida Straus
Isidor Straus married German-born Rosalie Ida Blun in 1871. He was 26 and she was 22. He had been born in Germany but his family immigrated to America when he was a child and he grew up in Georgia, working in a dry goods store during the Civil War (he tried to enlist in the Confederate army but was too young). Afterward he moved north with his family and had a concession selling pottery and glassware in Macys department store. They did so well, that he and his brother bought RH Macys in 1895.
Isidor and Ida had 6 children. They were inseparable and deeply in love for their whole lives together. In fact, when Straus became a Congressman for 2 years and had to be away from his wife, they wrote to one another every single day. Everyone remarked on their remarkable devotion.
Although they had always taken German steamship lines on their frequent trips to Europe, this time they decided to take the Titanic on her maiden voyage.
Memorial to the Straus’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan
When the ship was sinking, the story that was witnessed and corroborated by many was that Mr. Straus had been offered a place in the lifeboat with his wife but would not take it when there were women and children that needed seats.
The other side of the Straus monument in Greenwood Cemetery quotes from The Song of Solomon, “Many waters cannot quench love”
After making sure their maid got a seat, Mrs. Straus would not leave Mr. Straus and stayed behind saying “we have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” They were last seen sitting on deck chairs holding hands as the final wave washed over the Titanic. That is a great and poignant love story, and in many ways, better than any fiction (the movie had them in a bed, holding one another).
Sinking was probably the last thing anyone on the ship would have expected when they boarded the Titanic.
Until late that night of April 14th, 1912… no one had a clue that anything would happen in a spanking new ship that still smelled of paint. This was going to be a fine trip.
First class was very ‘first class’ and that was where the Straus’s stayed. There were gorgeous woods and fabrics in staterooms that had sitting rooms and bedrooms done up in different styles (Italian Renaissance, Louis XV, or Queen Anne). It was around $4500 per person to book a 1st class deluxe Promenade suite on the B deck (over $100,000 today) that included 2 bedrooms, servant’s room, 2 walk-in closets, private bath and sitting room (Ismay stayed in one of them… the room that had been booked for JP Morgan who cancelled at the last minute). First class passages began around $125 for a small stateroom –– still a lot of money for the time since a house could be bought for less than $1000 ($125 would be around $3000 today).
1st class Stateroom, Single
1st class Stateroom, Suite
1st class dining room – the photo was taken on the doomed voyage.
The first class dining room was luxurious. I discovered that that hadn’t always been the case on transatlantic ships. When Dickens came over from England for the first time (an 18-day voyage), he complained that the dining room on the ship was like “a gigantic hearse” and meals consisted of potatoes and more potatoes, lots of meat and a “rather mouldy”’ fruit dessert.
The Straus’s were right to prefer the Hamburg/American lines for transatlantic travel. They were one of the first lines to begin to offer fine dining on their ships… the British lines followed. Admittedly refrigeration had something to do with the changes –– on Dickens’ passage, produce was stored under lifeboats on deck! By 1913, the Hamburg/America lines went so far as to hire Caesar Ritz of the Savoy and Ritz-Carlton to give them a topflight kitchen and dining room. They even had the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s designer, Charles Mewes, do the dining room for their grand ship SS Imperator.
As you can see, by 1914 The Cunard Line’s ill-fated Lusitania was posting elegant fare for their passengers.
The White Star Line was making an effort in the kitchen for Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, as this rare 1913 menu shows (only $500 on Ebay!).
For breakfast and lunch, the food on the Titanic was good, simple fare with a lot of buffet-style dishes
I was amused to see the still popular Quaker Oats on the breakfast menu along with an assortment of fruits and many egg dishes –– fried, shirred, poached, boiled and prepared omelettes. The vegetable-stew and sliced lamb and mutton are unusual for today’s breakfasts but not in 1912.
The White Star Line’s meals for 1st 2nd and 3rd Class were announced by a trumpeted melody. The bugler, PW Fletcher, played a classic tune, “The Roast Beef of Old England” (Listen HERE) instead of using a gong or bell… a charming idea.
Much has been made about the last dinner on the Titanic, but other menus were saved … God only knows why. Who saves a menu when the ship is sinking (well, I might have…)? I read that some of them came from a French ladies’ maid who spoke little English and carried menus around with her, checking off things that weren’t available by the time she got to eat… these ended up with her on the lifeboat. Although very few originals remain, copies were made into thousands of postcards and sold to get money for the survivors. Many of the clean copies you see of Titanic menus are just that, copies –– albeit 1912 copies.
One original menu comes from April 2, 1912. Evidently this meal was served in port in Ireland and 5th Officer (Harold Lowe) sent off a menu to his sweetheart. Good thing too, it recently sold at auction for nearly $40,000. The steward who passed it along survived the sinking ship as well (a lucky break since only 21% of the male crew survived –– and the only reason that many made it was because crew members were included on the lifeboats with the woman and children to row the boats… male passengers didn’t fare as well).
You can see that the legendary last dinner on the Titanic menu with 10 courses (that I wrote about HERE) is more complicated than the luncheon menu.
I thought I would work with the luncheon menu that was served the last afternoon since it hasn’t been done to death. Honestly, I had always thought the only menu that still existed was that of the last dinner… gratefully, it was not. As far as I can see, there are fewer than 10 different original menus still in existence from all the classes (breakfast, lunch and dinner), although there may be more than one of each.
Although I liked the name of the dish “Eggs Omar Pasha”(baked eggs with a rich meat reduction and tomato sauce) that was on the April 12th Luncheon menu, the dish that had just the right feel for me was Apple Meringue on the April 14th menu.
I loved the idea of the creamy baked apple custard and meringue… perfect because it’s old fashioned, romantic in a quiet way, and delicious. Just the kind of thing I could imagine the Straus’s would have enjoyed. They would have been happy together that afternoon, with no idea in the world that everything would come to an end for them that night. They would have had no regrets for a life well lived full of love… not a bad thought for all of us on this Valentine’s Day.
I looked through many old cookbooks for the recipe. They varied from a simple baked apple with meringue on top to a cake-bottomed number, spread with sautéed apples and then topped with meringue. Most involved baked apple slices and custard that sounded perfect to me. It is simple to make and real comfort food… the combination of baked apple and custard is the best of 2 great desserts.
Apple Meringue for 4
2 Lbs apples peeled, cored and sliced
2 T butter
¼ to 1/3c sugar (to taste, the custard and meringue are sweet)
Juice of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 T sugar
1 3/4 c of scalded milk
1/2 t vanilla
5 egg whites
5 T sugar
pinch cream of tartar
zest of 1 lemon
Melt the butter, lemon and sugar and toss with the apple slices. Bake the apples at 350º, covered,
till soft but not mushy, 30 - 40 minutes, tossing a few times. Drain the apples. You can reduce the liquid to a thick glaze and put in the bottom of your container but if you don't drain them the custard will be too liquid. Fill oven proof dishes 1/3 to 1/2 full of apples, to your taste.
Combine the yolks and sugar and beat till lemon colored. Add the salt and scalded milk. Pour it over the apples and bake at 350º in a dish filled with water half up the sides of the containers until the custard is mostly firm about 50 minutes. Chill- it doesn't have to be ice cold.
Beat the whites of 5 eggs with 5 T sugar and lemon zest
When apple custard is cooled, pipe or spoon the meringue on the top and put in a 350’ oven for 10 minutes or until browned
Thanks again to my friend Linda at Statewide Marble in Jersey City for the gorgeous piece of onyx!
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!