1912 – The RMS Titanic and Punch Romaine

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

 

Near, far – whenever you are…

In this, the first official stop in our self-styled Year of the Doctor, we’d be remiss if we didn’t pick one of the juicier points in history to kick things off.  So, here we go:  1912.  Why 1912?  As years go, it was a pretty bang up one.  The Republic of China was established, as were Paramount and Universal Pictures.  Piltdown Man was discovered (only to be, forty years later, revealed as a hoax).  Julia Child, Charles Addams, and Gene Kelly were born.  The Oreo cookie was invented.  T. E. Lawrence was poking around archeological expeditions in the Middle East, quite unaware of how life-changing his knowledge of the area would soon become.  And, of course, let’s not forget the folks over at Downton Abbey, who we first met when they found their lives shifting dramatically as news of the RMS Titanic sinking reached them.

And so, the Titanic.  This year – April 15th, to be exact – marks the 100th anniversary of the epic end of the great ocean liner. Rather than rehash that tragic tale, we’ve chosen to celebrate the remarkable ship herself and how she symbolized the Edwardian era itself — a period fat on the rewards of industrialization and fascinated with opulence, yet struggling with social equity.  It is rightly called a second “gilded age”, when the surface of things was exquisitely polished, covering the tarnish beneath.  And, while scholars put the end of the Edwardian era as anywhere between 1910 and 1919, it is not hard to see how the sinking of the Titanic defined a generation and signaled a loss of innocence and a change of seasons to come, much like the Kennedy assassination defined a very different generation.

By the mere nature of their name, “cruise ships” have always been associated with breezy, good times.  The Titanic was no different, but interestingly, her construction was spurred by rather unique circumstances.  At this time, Cunard was known for having the fastest cruise ships in the world. White Star Lines knew that it could not compete with Cunard in speed, so the company decided to create a triumvirate of ships – the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Gigantic (later renamed the Britannic) – known specifically for their overwhelming luxury.  Indeed, an advertising poster aimed at third-class passengers proclaimed Titanic as “The Queen of the Ocean.”

 

Above all else, for its seven-day transatlantic voyage, Titanic was designed for pleasure – gustatory, bibulous, and otherwise.  The ship was outfitted with a gymnasium, a pool, libraries, smoking rooms, and a squash court.  But, by all accounts, the most anticipated activity of the day was dining, a ritual so important that the sole job of steward Peter W. Fletcher was to walk the decks at meal times, blowing his bugle with the White Star Line’s traditional dining tune, “The Roast Beef of Old England.”

Ocean liners of the day produced some 6,000 to 10,000 meals a day; on Titanic, the ship’s galley serviced the three, individual Dining Saloons for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class passengers, as well as the à la carte Restaurant, several cafes, and provisions for stateroom and on-deck dining. First-class passengers enjoyed the architectural splendor of a Jacobean dining room, feasting on ten-course meals that included oysters, roast squab, paté de foie gras, and Waldorf pudding.  Second-class passengers dined better than many first-class passengers on other ocean liners, while third-class voyagers – who usually were required to bring their own food on ocean voyages — ate heartily at mid-day, with selections like roast beef with corn, potatoes, and plum pudding.

For a taste of the scrumptious food presented aboard the ship, we direct to our dear friend Deana Sidney over at LostPastRemembered, with whom we’ve partnered for our little voyage back in time.  Every Doctor needs an intrepid companion, and we could do no finer that Deana.  Rather than recreate an item from the famous last dinner (which abounds around the ‘net), she has offered up a dish from April 14th luncheon menu:  Apple Meringue, a fitting companion to our own creation today.

Of course, our particular fascination leans toward the consumption of spirits and, in that regard, the Titanic does not disappoint.  Per the Titanic-Titanic.com website, the ship’s cargo list included more than 250 cases and 26 hogsheads (approx. 238 liters) of wine, 6 cases of vermouth, 63 cases of champagne, 17 cases of cognac, 110 cases of brandy, 1 case of whiskey (thus American or Irish), and 192 cases of liquor.  Clearly, Titanic passengers enjoyed their tipple – several times a day.  While the heyday of classic cocktails was reaching twilight – the Temperance Movement was going strong in America and on the Continent – there is no question that they were still served. In New York and London, G. F. Heublein & Bros. was selling pre-mixed, aged-in-wood Club Cocktails.  The Wehman Bros. Bartender’s Guide was published in 1912, offering recipes to make bitters, cordials, liqueurs, etc.  And, while Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912, a proper Sazerac would still have been available in international waters.

But, for today’s story, the drink that matters most is punch.  While dining menus have been recovered from the Titanic, information about specific alcoholic beverages is virtually nonexistent.  Except in the case of Punch Romaine, a sorbet-like concoction noted in the body of a surviving menu of the final dinner served to first-class passengers before the disaster.

 

That meal is described by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley in Last Dinner on the Titanic (1997): “True to Edwardian fashion, greatly influenced by the elaborate and heavily sauced cuisine perfected by the French master Auguste Escoffier, many of the main dishes were made richer and more delicious with high-fat sauces and garnishes.”  Thus, it’s not surprising that, as an interlude between some of these indulgent courses, diners were served Punch Romaine, most likely served in dessert cups as a palate cleanser, offering the tang of lemon, the bite of alcohol, and the velvety softness of meringue folded into the sweet, frozen citrus ice.

 

Punch Romaine

1.5 Cups Superfine Sugar
4 Lemons
Water

Whites of Two Eggs
0.75 Cup Sugar
3 oz Water

8 oz Aged Rum
8 oz Champagne

 

Lemon Water Ice
Peel the lemons, taking as little of the pith as possible
Add the peels to a bowl and completely cover with the sugar, letting sit 1 hour
Add 1 cup of lemon juice (which 4 large lemons should produce) and stir to dissolve sugar
Strain out peels
Add enough water to make 1 quart of liquid
Freeze in an ice cream maker or pan until only partially frozen

Italian Meringue
Beat the 2 egg whites to stiff peaks, set aside
Combine the 0.75 cup sugar and 3 oz water in a sauce pan
Bring sugar mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar
Heat to “small ball” candy stage (use a candy thermometer for this), which is 236-238 degrees F
Remove syrup from heat and, in a very slow trickle, fold into beaten egg whites
Stir until all syrup is added and mixture is smooth

Combine
In an ice cream maker or chilled bowl, add meringue to lemon ice, stirring gently until combined
Just before serving, slowly add rum and champagne, stirring constantly
Mixtures should be thick and creamy but drinkable
Serve immediately (and we mean it)

Yield:  12 portions

Featured Glassware:  Octavie Martini by Villeroy & Boch

 

Known variously as Roman Punch, Punch Romaine, Punch à la Romaine , and Ponche à la Romaine, the insanely popular recipe (quite the “Angry Birds” of the drink world, it showed up everywhere) was already over 200 years old when mixed up aboard the Titanic.  According to 1842’s Epicure’s Almanac; or, Diary of Good Living, by B. E. Hill, its origins literally can be traced to the city of Rome, where since the late 1600s, it had been “the summer refreshment of successive Popes, and their cooks were threatened with the horrors of the Holy Office, if they ventured to impart the secret of its preparation.”  When Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796, he took the recipe home to France thanks to Molas, the ambitious son of the Pope’s chief confectioner.  Soon after, Molas and the recipe found their way to London and on and on.

Historian David Wondrich doesn’t mention the Papal legacy, but does note the French connection, claiming that chic Parisians enjoyed champagne punch with the Italian-style ices sold by limonadiers, who smoothed out the icy texture by adding meringue. By 1810, a recipe for Roman Punch (perhaps dubbed as such by the French because of the Italian ice connection) showed up in a Swedish cookbook. Then, in 1862, we find the recipe offered in the world’s first official cocktail book by the bon vivant himself, Jerry Thomas.  Seven years later, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks (1869) offers no fewer than eight variations on “Ponche à la Romaine”, employing variously essence of ginger (à la Brunning), Moselle wine, Kirschwasser, and Créme de Noyeau (à la Montrose), and Chartreuse and peach brandy (à la Hastings).   LostPastRemembered offers up one of these variations in an earlier Titanic outing.

In his book Punch, Wondrich offers two recipes, dubbing the Charles Ranhofer/Delmonico’s one “the hard way”, but promising that “Oohs will be oohed, aahs aahed.”  Don’t be intimidated by the “hard way” warning.  If you have ever made candy or done any real baking, it will be quite accessible, and the only bit of special equipment needed is a candy thermometer (had for a few bucks at Walmart). For those of you a bit daunted by some of the techniques, simply take your time and pay attention to the details.     We like the “hard way” here because, quite frankly, it’s the way it would have been done aboard ship.  The result is definitely “ooh” and “aah” inducing and reminded us of a super classy and refined frozen margarita or daiquiri – far from a bad thing.

As noted in the Epicure’s Almanac that “your mixture should be smooth, white, and as thick as cream.”  That smooth, white creaminess is provided to a great degree by the egg white meringue and this leads us back to the galley of the Titanic where a somewhat historically maligned individual – one ship’s chief baker named Charles Joughin – might very well have been the one who whipped the egg white needed for the creamy meringue of the night’s Punch Romaine – or, indeed, those for Deana’s Apple Meringue.

Along with being the ship’s head baker, Joughin holds the dubious distinction of having survived the tragedy because he was drunk.  The fact that dear Charles unwittingly saved himself with alcohol is reason enough for 12 Bottle Bar to champion his cause (this marks his second appearance on our site), but there’s a great deal more to this story than, well, a baker who was half-baked.  In point of fact, shortly after midnight and several hours after the last bit of Punch Romaine would have been served, Joughin heard the call to general quarters and noted that the life boats were being readied.  He immediately ordered his bakers to the larder, where they all grabbed as many loaves of bread as they could and loaded them on the boats.

In between retreats to his cabin where he fortified himself with alcohol (could you blame the man?), Joughin assisted passengers onto the lifeboats, declining to board himself, and, later, climbed back onto the deck where he threw more than 50 chairs and other items overboard, in the hope of giving people something to grab onto.  As the Titanic listed onto its side, Joughin grabbed hold of a rail (he is depicted as the drunken man on the railing in James Cameron’s Titanic) until the boat almost touched the water. He then literally “stepped” into the ocean and paddled off, his blood alcohol so high that it worked like “biological anti-freeze”, as noted in a news clips featured in The Titanic for Dummies (2012).

The British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry details Joughin’s bibulous journey, which included his admission to drinking some spirits and “a tumbler half-full of liqueur”.  When the Commissioner asked whether any of this mattered, the questioning official, Mr. Cotter, said “Yes, my Lord, this is very important, because I am going to prove, or rather my suggestion is, that he then saved his life. I think his getting a drink had a lot to do with saving his life.”

Joughin’s story says a lot about decency and level-headedness in the face of crisis.  His embrace of the bottle in a moment of fear was both understandable and lucky.  And, while we do not advocate imbibing for lifesaving purposes, we do salute Charles Joughin’s fateful decision to have more than a few drinks in a moment of crisis.

Our hope, of course, is that your first taste of Punch Romaine will be under far, far more equitable circumstances.  Is it gauche to launch one journey atop the up-ended rudder of another?  Perhaps, but it is dramatic – and it is very Doctor-ish.  Allons-y!

 

 

Esoterica:  Some people claim that the Titanic sank because of the Champagne Curse (if a champagne bottle doesn’t break on christening the ship, it will sink). In truth, Titanic’s parent company White Star Line never used champagne or any other bottled wine or spirit to christen its ships, thus handily debunking the myth.

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7 Responses to “1912 – The RMS Titanic and Punch Romaine”

  1. Jennifer Rader via Facebook
    February 9, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Fabulous article!! Thank you for the exhaustive research… This was a great read, and you are a gifted wordsmith, Lesley!

  2. February 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    Great post guys… it was too much fun to do.  I never knew the history of the Punch Romaine… I was surprised at the million ways to make it… yours is brilliant… hoorah@!!!

  3. February 10, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    This was a lovely post, with a very nice lead photo, and an intriguing recipe. I will conspire with a baker friend to try this one out. Excellent work.

  4. Sarah Galvin
    February 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Wow, this is very elegant.  Love that copper bowl for making the meringue.  Lucky you!  And like the glass.  It’s beautiful.

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