Last Dinner on RMS Titanic: April 14, 1912

2nd class dinner menu from RMS Titanic's last night
Second Class dinner menu from the last night afloat of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, 14 April, 1912. (National Maritime Museum)

The last night at sea for the ill-fated luxury liner Titanic must have been a glittering affair among the wealthy first-class passengers, but even in the second-class dining room there would certainly have been no spectre of shipwreck tragedy to detract from the typically generous and varied White Star Line menu.

On that last carefree night before the ship hit an iceberg and sank, with 1503 lives lost, the second-class passengers on the “unsinkable” Titanic were served a traditional full Edwardian meal.

It was quite plain British cooking by the standards of other cuisines and other decades, perhaps, and much less elaborate than the first-class fare — but still, notable enough for the number and variety of dishes:

Triple Screw Steamer “Titanic”
2nd Class

April 14, 1912


Consommé     Tapioca
Baked Haddock, Sharp Sauce
Curried Chicken & Rice
Spring Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce
Green Peas     Purée Turnips
Boiled Rice
Boiled & Roast Potatoes
Plum Pudding
Wine Jelly     Cocoanut Sandwich
American Ice Cream
Nuts Assorted
Fresh Fruit
Cheese     Biscuits

The second-class dinner menu card was saved by passenger Mrs J. Bertha Marshall (née Watt). She later gave it to Walter Lord, author of A Night to Remember (who also wrote the foreword to Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner (Hardcover) by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley).

The menu is printed in postcard format, allowing passengers to post the menu to friends in order to boast about the luxury and variety of meals served on board the Titanic. The owners of the Titanic, the White Star Line, wanted the ship to become the only way to cross the Atlantic in style and a wide-ranging advertising campaign of postcards, brochures and pamphlets was launched to promote the ship. Following the disaster, replica menu postcards were produced and sold to raise money for the Titanic Disaster Relief Fund.

The menu card now forms part of the collection of the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory at Greenwich, UK. A printed replica of the Titanic menu card, along with other Titanic memorabilia, is available through the museum shop.

Escoffier, Dame Nellie and Pêche Melba

In 1892 or 1893, the Australian opera star Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931) performed in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at London’s Covent Garden to great critical and popular acclaim. To celebrate her triumph, the Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party at the Savoy Hotel for which the hotel’s French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) created a new dessert — Pêche Melba.

Nellie Melba

Nellie Melba, born Helen Porter Mitchell, was one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and early 20th century — the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical vocalist, and one of the first stage performers to be made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire.

To an observant student of the world’s genius it is a reflection, not without a peculiar interest of its own, that the Australian Continent has so far produced but one woman-singer of the first rank. …

Melba stands alone. Towering head and shoulders over every other aspirant to the highest honours of grand opera, the retirement of Madame Patti from the operatic field has left “the Australian Nightingale” undisputed ruler of an empire probably the proudest in the sum of this planet’s most desirable possessions. Yet these are honours becomingly and graciously worn by one who, scarcely a decade ago, was little more than a name to patrons and supporters of the opera.

~ The Strand Magazine, No.97 (1899)

Like many celebrities, in any era of history, Melba seems to have been concerned about her personal appearance, but “Melba, like all sensible people, loved her food,” wrote Percy Colson in his personal memoir of the opera singer, Melba: An Unconventional Biography (1932):

At the same time she wanted to keep her figure and found it a little difficult. Once when she and I were dining with [the German composer, Herman] Bemberg in Paris, he said to her : “What is the good of making to come a masseuse every morning, Nellie, when every evening at dinner vous retrappez tons ce que vous avez perdu?”

“Quel cochon,” she answered. “I believe you grudge me every mouthful I eat.” Bemberg himself ate very little, but he kept a first-rate chef.

Peach Melba

The original Pêche (Peach) Melba was served in a silver bowl. An ice sculpture of a swan was filled with peaches on a bed of vanilla ice cream, the whole thing topped with spun sugar.

Escoffier revised his Pêche Melba for the opening of the Carlton hotel in 1900, where he was the head chef. The ice swan was omitted this time, and raspberry purée topped the peaches.

It is this second version that has become famous as the definitive Escoffier Pêche Melba, but later Peach Melba recipes have substituted raspberry sauce or melted red-currant jelly for the raspberry purée. Depending on local availability of fruits in season, sometimes the variations even go so far as to use pears, apricots, or strawberries in place of peaches.

The Acadian Roots of Cajun Cuisine

More than 14,000 Acadians were deported from Acadia (now the Maritime Provinces of Canada) in the Grand Dérangement of 1755, when they refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown. Eventually, in 1764, Acadians were allowed to return to Acadia, but with such restrictions placed on their freedom by the British that many chose not to go back.

Between 1765 and 1785, many of the exiled Acadians found their way to Louisiana and settled in, marrying into the local population. “Acadian” was corrupted to “Cajun,” and the rest is culinary history!

Acadian cookbookCajun cooking is known for the spicy warmth of mixed peppers — quite a different flavour from the savoury herbs of Acadian dishes, many of which are still enjoyed among the French-speaking residents of eastern Canada, and of the bordering state of Maine — and yet, the two cuisines are clearly connected in spirit as well as in history.

The indigenous cuisine of Acadia is a distant relative of French home cooking, born of necessity and created from what was naturally available. Roast porcupine or seal-fat cookies may not be to every modern diner’s taste, but the few recipes of this nature in A Taste of Acadie hint at the ingenuity of women who fed their families with what the land provided. Most of the recipes, however, use ingredients beloved of today’s cooks. Here you’ll find fricot, a wonder of the Acadian imagination, pot en pot, a traditional Sunday dinner sometimes called grosse soupe, and dozens of meat pies, variations on pâté à la viande. There’s also pâté à la rapure, with a crust made of grated potatoes, and the popular poutine rapée, one of the few French dishes to survive the transition to the New World, although certainly not in its original form. For those with a sweet tooth… recipes that use maple syrup and fresh wild berries, from poutine à trou, a delectable mixture of apples, cranberries and nuts in a rich pastry purse, to the cheekily named pets de soeurs (nun’s farts), a biscuit with a puckered middle and a saucy Acadian name.

When the Acadian people first settled in North America, in the very early 1600s, they adapted their traditional diet to take advantage of the food that was readily available in their new home. Similarly, in exile, they lived off the land (and sea) to a great extent. As noted, the roots of Acadian cooking are found in the peasant food of old rural France, commonly based on poultry, pork and game cooked together with vegetables in a savoury sauce or gravy. Many of the definitive Acadian dishes, such as fricot à la poule (a type of chicken and potato stew, flavoured with summer savoury), are designed to be cooked in one pot, country style.

Acadians were farmers who lived off the land, creating hearty meals with the ingredients that were at hand and wasting very little. As the Acadians moved south and settled in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, their cuisine evolved to include the natural resources of their new home — crawfish and shrimp in place of the lobsters of the North Altantic waters, for example, and catfish or redfish in place of Acadia’s cod and salmon. For a predominantly Roman Catholic population, not eating meat on Fridays, seafood would have been an important part of the diet.

Hard-working farm families with many children needed a large quantity of good filling food to keep them going: rice, easy to grow in the moist warm climate of Lousiana, became the foundation of Cajun cuisine in place of the ubiquitous potatoes of Acadia. Bell peppers, cayenne, black pepper and similar spices were also a natural addition to the hearty rural Acadian dishes, given the influence of Spain in the Acadiana region, along with the African and Native American influences that have also helped to shape Cajun cooking over time.

How to Make and Eat Hardtack

Hardtack (or hard tack) is a flat hard biscuit made from flour, water (often saltwater) that was used as a staple food where fresh and perishable foods won’t survive. Also known as “pilot bread,” “pilot biscuit,” “ship’s biscuit” or “ship biscuit,” “sea biscuit,” and “sea bread,” hardtack is most closely associated with sailors on long sea voyages in the days of sail, and with soldiers on campaign.

Traditional Recipe for Hardtack

6 parts flour
1 part water
1 Tbsp salt (optional)

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and knead with your hands, adding extra flour as necessary so the mixture won’t stick to your fingers. Roll out 1/2-inch thick and cut into 3-inch squares.

Poke holes in each square with a fork or a skewer — four rows of four holes each is a traditional pattern — and place on a ungreased flat pan that is dusted with flour.

Bake in a pre-heated slow oven (300°F) for 30 minutes, turn, then bake another 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the hardtack biscuits in the oven overnight until cool and completely dry.

Hard tack was sometimes baked twice, even four times, to dry it very thoroughly for long storage, and in the process it could become as hard as rock. No wonder that nicknames for hardtack include “tooth dullers”, “sheet iron” or “molar breakers”!

billings-bookIn 1887, John Davis Billings, who had served in the Army of the Potomac, wrote and published a memoir of his Civil War experiences. The title he chose, Hardtack and Coffee, suggests that the unpalatable military rations left a lasting impression on the young soldier. In this excerpt, Billings describes hardtack and how it was used by Civil War soldiers:

I will speak of the rations more in detail, beginning with the hard bread, or, to use the name by which it was known in the Army of the Potomac, Hardtack. What was hardtack? It was a plain flour-and-water biscuit. Two which I have in my possession as mementos measure three and one-eighth by two and seven-eighths inches, and are nearly half an inch thick. Although these biscuits were furnished to organizations by weight, they were dealt out to the men by number, nine constituting a ration in some regiments, and ten in others; but there were usually enough for those who wanted more, as some men would not draw them. While hardtack was nutritious, yet a hungry man could eat his ten in a short time and still be hungry.

… [T]here must have been at least a score of ways adopted to make this simple flour tile more edible. Of course, many of them were eaten just as they were received — hardtack plain; then I have already spoken of their being crumbed in coffee, giving the “hardtack and coffee.” Probably more were eaten in this way than in any other, for they thus frequently furnished the soldier his breakfast and supper. But there were other and more appetizing ways of preparing them….

Some of these crumbed them in soups for want of other thickening. For this purpose they served very well. Some crumbed them in cold water, then fried the crumbs in the juice and fat of meat. A dish akin to this one, which was said to “make the hair curl,” and certainly was indigestible enough to satisfy the cravings of the most ambitious dyspeptic, was prepared by soaking hardtack in cold water, then frying them brown in pork fat, salting to taste. Another name for this dish was “skillygalee.” Some liked them toasted, either to crumb in coffee, or, if a sutler was at hand whom they could patronize, to butter. The toasting generally took place from the end of a split stick, and if perchance they dropped out of it into the camp-fire, and were not recovered quickly enough to prevent them from getting pretty well charred, they were not thrown away on that account, being then thought good for weak bowels.

Then they worked into milk-toast made of condensed milk at seventy-five cents a can; but only a recruit with a big bounty, or an old vet the child of wealthy parents, or a re-enlisted man did much in that way. A few who succeeded by hook or by crook in saving up a portion of their sugar ration spread it upon hardtack. The hodge-podge of lobscouse also contained this edible among its divers other ingredients; and so in various ways the ingenuity of the men was taxed to make this plainest and commonest yet most serviceable of army food to do duty in every conceivable combination.

~ John Davis Billings, Hardtack and coffee, or, The unwritten story of army life (1887)

Photo: D. Farr. “19th Century civil war hardtack, as reproduced faithfully by a civil war re-enactor. To the left, army hard tack. To the right, Navy hard tack. Both would never be seen just laying around. They would either be in a barrel, a haversack, or human hand.” Wikipedia Commons 2007-01-23.

Suffrage Angel Cake à la Kennedy

Eliza Kennedy Smith (1889-1964) was a suffragette, a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to The Suffrage Cook Book, published by the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania in 1915.

Here, her recipe for Suffrage Angel Cake is followed by a modern explanation of the vintage cooking terms and methods, so you can recreate this popular light-textured cake in your own kitchen.

What is particularly interesting about this turn-of-the-century recipe is that it uses whole eggs, where modern “angel food cakes” usually call for using the egg whites only. However, it seems likely that by the 1920s, Miss Kennedy (by then married to Mr. R. Templeton Smith, also of Pittsburgh) was separating her eggs along with fellow members of the Alleghany County League of Women Voters, baking cakes and making noodles to raise funds for their cause…

But on to the recipe —

Suffrage Angel Cake

(à la Kennedy)
11 eggs
1 full cup Swansdown Flour (after sifting)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch of salt

Beat the eggs until light–not stiff; sift sugar 7 times, add to eggs, beating as little as possible. Sift flour 9 times, using only the cupful, discarding the extra flour; then put in the flour the cream of tartar; add this to the eggs and sugar; now the vanilla. Put in angel cake pan with feet. Put in oven with very little heat. Great care must be used in baking this cake to insure success. Light the oven when you commence preparing material. After the first 10 minutes in oven, increase heat and continue to do so every five minutes until the last 4 or 5 minutes, when strong heat must be used. At thirty minutes remove cake and invert pan allowing to stand thus until cold.

Kitchen Notes

Angel cakes are notorious for using a great many eggs and not much flour — this is what gives the low-fat cake its light-as-a-cloud texture, and hence the name.

  • Eggs that are brought to room temperature before beating will have more volume, making a larger and lighter cake.
  • The flour and sugar must be well sifted, as instructed, to remove lumps and mix in air. Sifting will also greatly affect the measurement of dry ingredients.
  • Do not over-work this cake: beat only as much as necessary to combine the ingredients smoothly.

What oven temperature should you use?

“Light the oven when you commence preparing material” means to preheat the oven. For oven temperatures, Miss Kennedy said to “Put in the oven with very little heat” and then “increase heat and continue to do so every five minutes until the last 4 or 5 minutes, when strong heat must be used.”

Most modern recipes for angel cake call for baking at 350°F oven temperature throughout the cooking time, and that method will work just fine here. If you want to replicate Miss Kennedy’s baking method, however, “very little heat” can be interpreted as somewhere in the range of 250°F, and 400°F or so would be the “strong heat” called for in the final few minutes of baking.

What cake pan should you use?

Note that Miss Kennedy specified to bake the batter in an angel cake pan with feet. Basically, this is a large tube pan with metal pieces sticking up from the top rim. When you turn the cake pan over to let it cool, so the cake will release from the pan, it rests on these “feet” instead of flattening the top of the cake. While it is hot, an angel cake is very delicate and can “fall” easily if touched with too much pressure. The cake is likely to take two hours to cool, so plan your serving time accordingly.

Historical Notes

Eliza Kennedy married R. Templeton Smith, also of Pittsburgh, shortly after The Suffrage Cook Book was published. Their son, Templeton Smith, Jr. (1919-2007) was one of the first environmental lawyers. He wrote a biography of his mother entitled One who made a difference: Mrs. R. Templeton Smith, a.k.a. Eliza Kennedy Smith, 1889-1964, now unfortunately out of print.