My book makes mention of a Titanic-themed dinner party, and with the anniversary of its sinking being today (15 April 1912), one of my readers asked, how (exactly) I would plan and manage that. My reader hasn’t suggested what class their preference would be. It’s probably first, but I’m going to start with a Stress Free Dinner Party Titanic Third Class for beginners. Third Class, travelling with the likes of toolmaker William Allen and servant Alice Harknett.
According to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum’s TiITANICa Exhibition, third class passengers were offered rice soup, fresh bread, biscuits [I expect these are the unsweetened US bread type of biscuit], roast beef with gravy, sweet corn, and boiled potatoes, followed by plum pudding, sweet sauce and fruit. If you have vegetarian friends, you might prefer to invite them to a different themed meal.
I confess to being a peasant at heart, and I don’t think you can go past third class’s roast beef and plum pudding – it must have seemed like Christmas every day.
The museum hasn’t been specific on beverages, but given that many third-class passengers were working class people, I’d guess it was more likely they would have drunk beer. The ship had tanks for drinking water and apparently used 14,000 gallons/52,996L each day (so that too – naturally).
The third class dining room was considered quite the thing in its time with white enamelled walls, plain tables and chairs. I haven’t been able to locate a “free” photo, but you can see TITANICa’s picture here.
Our third class passengers were mainly working class people emigrating to America in the hopes of a better life, so it’s doubtful they would have changed for dinner. I have unsuccessfully tried to source an unrelated picture to give you an idea for costuming, and I feel really bad about using this picture for such a frivolous reason, so I would like us to take a moment to remember this family. And if you pray, please pray for them.
This is the Goodwin Family: Frederick (42-year-old electrical engineer), his wife Augusta (43) and their children Lillian (16), Charles (14), William (11), Jessie (10), Harold (9) and baby Sidney, originally from Fulham, England. They were travelling to New York to join Frederick’s brother working at the Niagara Falls power station. They were originally travelling by steamer in third class to save money, but their steamer was cancelled due to the coal strike, and they were transferred to Titanic. The entire family was among the 1500 who did not survive the trip.
Alternatively, you could dial it back a notch and invite your guests to wear their usual work clothes.
I’m calling this the beginners menu because it is a relatively simple meal that is a staple in many households. As in the book, I assume six people arriving at 6:30pm for dinner at 7:00pm.
6:30 Aperitif: Chips/nuts and wine/beer
I don’t know what they would have done on the ship, but I’d treat this as a “normal” meal and offer my guests a choice of beer, red or white wine. I would probably offer chips and nuts to be polite even if not historically accurate.
7.00 Appetiser: Rice Soup with bread/biscuit
Nothing on the net, but good old Mrs Beeton comes to the rescue – her recipe serves 8 so be prepared for leftovers. We can use that for the gravy. Cook 40z/115g of long grain rice (Patna for preference) in boiling water for five minutes and drain well. Then simmer in 2 quarts/1.9L of white stock for one hour, and season with cayenne and mace. White stock is made by simmering a veal knuckle, poultry trimmings, ham, carrot, onion, celery, a blade of mace, salt and pepper in a buttered stockpot for five hours. I would dilute a pre-packaged beef stock, or mix beef and chicken 50/50 instead. You could make this a little ahead of time, but the rice will continue to absorb the stock, so not too far ahead!
8.00 Main: Roast beef, boiled potatoes, sweet corn and gravy
For six people, you should allow about 6 – 8oz/175-225g of meat per person, requiring about 3lb/1.36kg of boneless beef, or 4lb/2.73kg with bone. I like to rub mustard or some kind of spice mix into the meat before I cook it. I start with room temperature meat, and an oven preheated to 425F/220C for 15 minutes and then reduce to 350F/180C for 10-15 minutes per 1lb/450g of BONELESS meat. This results in rare to medium meat (a little pink in the middle) so if you prefer well-done increase to 20 minutes. For meat on the bone, 15-20 minutes for rare to medium or 25 for well done. So for 3lb/1.36kg piece of meat, you need to cook for 15 minutes + 45 minutes.
Scrub or peel and quarter 1 – 2 potatoes per person. Add to a pan of cold water with a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. When they are cooked, drain the liquid off and let them steam dry for a short time before serving.
Pull the outer leaves off one corn cob per person, and the stringy silks. Trim the tip and base off, and cut in half if you like. Put in a double boiler over the potatoes for 15 – 20 minutes, or boil in a separate pot if you don’t have a steamer.
Once the meat is cooked, take it out of the pan and put it on a plate to rest. Pour off most of the fat leaving 2 tblspns in the pan, and stir in 2 tblspns of flour and then gradually add 0.5 pint/300ml of strained soup and whisk until thick. You could slosh in a few tablespoons of wine for extra flavour, and the juices from the plate when you carve the meat.
9.00 Dessert: Plum Pudding with sweet sauce and fresh fruit
I might make a flavoured sugar syrup by cooking equal parts of sugar and water on the stove. I might flavour it with alcohol or mashed fruit, but I would probably make custard from powder and reheat a pre-made pudding. And put a bowl of seasonal fruit on the table.
10.00 Coffee and Digestif
Not strictly on the menu, but I think we could all do with coffee and a little something to wash that lot down. It’s also a good little nudge to let people know it’s about time they were thinking about leaving. Your alcoholic beverage would be a fortified wine e.g. port, or a distillation such as ouzo, liqueur like Grand Marnier or a brandy. Perhaps a small biscuit too.
On the assumption that you have finished all the cleaning, laying the table and so on, we’ll pick it up again when it is time to start cooking. I recommend that you make a trial run to test the timings and adjust where necessary. Be prepared for schedule slippage as the evening progresses.
4.00 start making soup (leave to cool when complete)
4.30 get washed and changed and ready for guest arrival
5.30 prepare meat and vegetables
6.30 guests arrive
6.45 put roast in the oven and reheat soup
7.00 serve soup
7.30 start cooking vegetables
8.00 serve main
8.45 reheat pudding according to the instructions and make custard
9.00 serve dessert
10.00 serve coffee
And that’s the easy version of a Titanic dinner. Is that something you feel you could manage? The wonderful thing about roasted meats is that all meat eaters love them so they are a really handy meal to learn to prepare.