Book Review: How Were Passengers Dining on 'The Last Night on the Titanic'?

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Posted: Apr 20, 2019 12:00 PM
Book Review: How Were Passengers Dining on 'The Last Night on the Titanic'?

Source: AP Photo/PA

Food writer Veronica Hinke has used her expertise to resurrect the feast the passengers on the Titanic enjoyed their last nights aboard the doomed vessel. "The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining, & Style," out on bookshelves now, tells readers what was on passengers' plates and in their glasses during their final nights of celebration. It is an original and fascinating angle of the sinking ship.  

In her research for the book, Hinke interviewed hundreds of experts on lifestyles, foods, and drinks, leading chefs and mixologists around the world. What results is a fascinating mix of photos, recipes, and artifacts from the ship, including crew menus. 

Crew menu from April 2, 1912, during the Titanic's sea trials. Courtesy of the Stanley and Laurel Lehrer Collection. Titanic: Fortune and Fate: Letters from Those Who Sailed on the Lost Ship. Simon & Schuster; first edition. 1988.

Despite being advertised as "the unsinkable ship," Titanic sunk on April 15, 1912 in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, along with about 1,500 passengers. It was near midnight when the lookout crew spotted an iceberg on the horizon, but it was too late. To the horror of all on board, the side of the ship struck the berg. It would be only a few hours before the Titanic capsized.

Let's go back several hours, however, when the passengers were still gaily enjoying each other's company. 

The last first-class dinner, as Hinke describes, included popular dishes like Oysters a la Russe, Consomme Olga, a beef-based broth, and Salmon with Mousseline Sauce. Other passengers may have enjoyed Filet Mignon Lili, served with potatoes and served with foie gras and truffles, or Chicken Lyonnaise, chicken made in a red wine vinegar sauce. Popular hors d'ouevres to frequently make an appearance aboard the ship and in the Edwardian era at large were items like pea truffle souffle, and scotch eggs.

Scotch egg at the Gage Restaurant in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Veronica Hinke.

Let's not forget the champagne. Lots and lots of champagne. Several bottles were found near the wreckage in later years.

Passengers had long since finished their suppers by the time the ship hit the iceberg and had moved on to their nightcaps - cordials, highballs, hot whiskey and hot lemonade, etc., accompanying their beverages with card games.

Hinke doesn't just dish up popular food of the era in "Last Night on the Titanic," she also highlights several of the ship's famous passengers. 

"John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest man on the Titanic - and possibly in the world," Hinke writes. 

Despite his wealth, Astor was described by witnesses as down to earth, mingling with all classes on the ship. Unfortunately, he did not survive the sinking. 

Also spotted in the Titanic's dining area was Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the White Star Line. Witnesses recall overhearing him brag about the ship's speed. That part, you may remember, made it into the 1997 feature film. 

Then there was Captain Edward John Smith, who was in an especially good mood, enjoying his retirement dinner with friends. Of course, the unsinkable Molly Brown and her lavish parties also make an appearance in the book.

If you're a foodie who also happens to have a fascination for the most famous ship in history, this book will be a treat.

"The Last Night on the Titanic" is available for purchase.