This is going to be a long post, so anyone who wants to skip right to the recipe click here: Part 2
I was still in college when I read about the white whale of a tart. That devious, juicy, enticing tart shrouded in mystery. My life as a foodie was forever changed the day that I read that there was, still in existence, a tart that was baked on the Titanic. I kid you not.
The article I was reading was brilliant. It was about the various archival preservation methods for food artifacts. The little quip about the tart just casually tossed in there. I knew then that I would have to recreate this tart. I tried in vain to locate the tart or even another mention of it but found it was a ghost.
The first time I read it I had images in my head of a girl (who looked very much like my sister,) tiptoeing into the kitchen amidst the commotion, and tossing a tart and a few extra goodies in a folded piece of newspaper, and sliding them into her coat while being quickly ushered into a lifeboat. Later she is seen with a doughnut in her mouth as the terrified survivors watch the flares go up over the ship. And even though my sister responds to this anecdote with "Of course I'd get some food, you don't know how long you're going to be in that lifeboat! You could freeze or starve!" I realize this is an unlikely scenario for a tart, but it's the one I went with until I could figure out more logical origins.
I knew there was only one place to get some answers and I amazingly got in touch with Gary McGowan of Cultural Preservation and Restoration of New Jersey, who freeze dried the tart years ago. While he never further authenticated the provenance, he said that the woman who brought it in said that she inherited the family heirloom. "It was lovingly cared for in a little cardboard box and, because it was food, she was concerned about moisture having an ill effect on its stability," McGowan wrote in addition to nice description of the specimen "When I saw it, it was quite hard and almost petrified."
Could this thing be real or was this just a piece of conservationist lore? It was only purported to have been baked on Titanic. It didn't seem plausible that something baked on Titanic could have made it out but it turns out, there are a lot of ways an edible could have left the ship.
There were workers on Titanic for days before the ship sailed and the whole ship was tested to make sure everything was in good working order. The tart could have been baked as part of this test run. It is also possible the tart escaped with one of the early cross channel passengers who disembarked in France and Ireland before the transatlantic voyage. Another plausible scenario is that the tart was mailed home. The R.M.S. part of R.M.S. Titanic stood for Royal Mail Steamer. There was a post office on board along with 7 million pieces of mail. Some of this mail was dropped off when the ship crossed the channel.
My top 3 candidates for smuggling the tart out are as follow:
1. Charles John Joughin. He was the Chef of the ship. In this scenario it would not be a tart baked on Titanic but a tart baked by the chef of Titanic. According to reports, this gentleman is noted for having been the last survivor to leave the ship and treading water for 2 hours before he was rescued. He stated that he barely felt the cold and was fine except for swollen feet. The interesting thing is that after he was saved he started a new life, in New Jersey. The same place that the tart resurfaced.
2. Eileen Lenox-Collingham. This young girl of 11 was one of the cross channel passengers, of her trip on Titanic she had this to say "I remember vaguely, the enormous dining room. Of course, it was very exciting for us because in those days children led a very nursery life, we didn't have our meals with our parents; we had them in the school or nursery. And it was generally very plain food, I suppose, like milk pudding and rather dull things like that, so it was very exciting to have this elaborate food." She sounds exactly like I do when someone asks me about a trip. I give the food tour.
3. John Coffey. He was a stoker who was hired in the days before Titanic's voyage. He used the job as a free ride home to Queensland and snuck off the ship when they got there, hiding under the mail bags. One could only assume he packed a bit of food for his journey.
Is there any credence to the Titanic Tart? Is it just food myth? A good fake? We'll probably never know, unless you are the owner of this tart and want to get in touch with me. Are you a believer or not? Answer in the comments.
So at the most this is a recreation of a foodie dream, and at the least it's a recreation of a REALLY old tart.
On to Part 2.