Missing the boat

Cynthia Stone
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I hated the movie, and I passed on the thousands of hours in television specials over the past week, but there was no way I could avoid getting ensnared in the mystery of the menus.

Before you read any further, I apologize to those of you who throw annual parties to watch the torturous three-hour-and-some-odd-minutes-long “Titanic” movie. And if you spent the whole weekend in full costume, I admire your ability to suck every last gram of fun out of the 100th anniversary of a shipwreck.

If I’d been on top of my game, maybe I would have been planning far enough ahead to have tested a selection of recipes from that era, but I suppose I missed that boat. In fact, I missed the point, until our very own CBC started listing the dishes served to each of the passenger classes.

I don’t care about the gowns they wore or the music that followed them overboard, but darned if I wasn’t fascinated by the argument over whether they ate lamb collups or fries.

For the few of you interested, collups (or collops) are slices of food — usually meat — but fries have nothing to do with potatoes. If you’re delicate, cover your eyes now. Otherwise referred to as oysters, lamb fries are, of course, testicles.

Don’t get ahead of me, now. There are no recipes here today for testicles — you can Google them at your leisure. But now that the excitement has died down, perhaps we could review a few of yesteryear’s fine dining options and what has replaced them on today’s typical table.

I was pleased to see baked apples and stewed prunes, neither of which I observed on my last cruise, however. Sirloin steak and mutton chops for breakfast seemed a bit over the top, but steak and eggs are not hard to come by on today’s breakfast table; neither are scones and honey.

The ham and eggs on the second-class menu sound better to me, and the smoked herring and jacketed potatoes at the bottom of the barrel appeal most of all. I’m not sure what the preference for steerage says about me, but there it is. And the roasted pork with sage and onions I wouldn’t turn down, either.

What amazes me most are not the differences, but the similarities between our food choices and what they ate on the Titanic 100 years ago.

Buckwheat pancakes

The “buckwheat cakes” offered to Titanic’s first- and second-class passengers may have been small leavened sweet cakes made with buckwheat flour, but given that they were served with maple syrup, I suspect they were a version of these delicious pancakes.

You can get buckwheat flour at the bulk food store or in large grocery stores these days, either in the baking aisle or with the grains in the natural or specialty food section. The flavour can be a bit overwhelming — nutty and earthy — so I prefer to combine it with plain flour. I don’t think they would have been prepared much differently on the Titanic, although this batch will make about 12 pancakes, enough to serve three or four people, as opposed to three or four thousand.

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

1 cup milk

1/4 cup plain yogurt, regular or low-fat

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 tbsp. melted butter, preferably unsalted

Whisk together buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, yogurt, eggs and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients all at once into dry. Mix only until there are no streaks of flour. Fold in melted butter, stirring just until combined — leave the lumps alone. If you have time, let the batter sit for 15 minutes before cooking. Drop by large spoonfuls into a lightly greased, medium-hot, heavy bottomed frying pan. When bubbles start breaking on the surface and the bottoms are golden brown, flip them and brown on the other side. Keep warm until all the batter is used up, then serve with fresh fruit and warmed maple syrup.

Roast pork with sage and onions

I suspect the 100-year-old version may have been a shoulder cut, roasted to a piping hot internal temperature to kill off the nasty bugs that ruled the day. This recipe is updated in every way except for the basic flavours.

Fresh sage is critical here — don’t try to make this with dried. I would expect to get about 8 servings from a large loin, but this recipe is fabulous leftover, served hot or cold the next day with bread, butter and pickles — definitely first-class fare.

1 3- to 4-lb. boneless pork loin

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper (divided)

2 tbsp. olive oil

6 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled but left whole

2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves

1 small bunch fresh sage

2 cups dry white wine

Rub the pork on all sides with about half of the salt and pepper. Brown in a Dutch oven in olive oil and set aside. Add onions, carrots and celery to pot and stir to brown lightly. Stir in garlic and bay leaves. Separate sage into its leaves — you need about 8 large leaves on their stalks — and add to the pot. Stir in reserved salt and pepper. Return pork roast to the pot, laying it on top of the bed of vegetables. Cover and roast at 400 F for about 1 hour, or until internal temperature of the pork reaches 140 F. Remove roast and cover with foil. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes. Carefully lift out the onions and set aside; keep warm. Place the dutch oven over high heat. Add wine and bring to a boil. Mash the vegetables in the liquid with a potato masher. Cook, stirring, until mixture is reduced by about half. Strain through a sieve, pressing against the mesh to extract every bit of juice you can from the vegetables. Serve pork sliced with the hunks of roasted onion on top and the delicious sauce on the side. Consider mashed potatoes, sautéed Swiss chard and sweet kernel corn as lovely sides with this modernized version of a historic dish.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,

P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: CBC, Google, The Telegram

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