If you’re anything like we are here at Whizzpast, you probably find yourself occasionally wondering about the smaller details of history’s most important events. What were they wearing? What did they have for dinner? Well, we’ll answer one of those questions for you today by taking a look at six delectable meals that were served at some of history’s most memorable events. Although information about what was eaten at past events often gets forgotten or left out of the history books, these six events have fairly clear records consisting of either original menus or primary sources indicating what was on the menu, providing us with a tasty glimpse into the past. Bon appétit!
First Thanksgiving dinner
Did the Pilgrims and Wampanoag dig into turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621, just as many do in our time? Not quite. But historians have been able to identify a few table toppings from the feast, some of which are part of the Thanksgiving tradition today. We know that they ate wildfowl, which was likely duck or goose, or possibly passenger pigeon or swan. We also know that the Wampanoag supplied 5 deer. Aside from that, historians can only make educated guesses using knowledge of what foods would have been available in the area. For example, chestnuts and lobster were probably eaten, while cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pies were not eaten, because the ingredients for these dishes weren’t around just yet. But what about the star of the meal, turkey? Governor William Bradford wrote about the food situation of the autumn of 1621, saying that “there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many”, which tells us that they had turkey available and possibly ate some at the feast—but probably not as the main dish.
President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball, held on March 6, 1865, was quite a bash. 4,000 party people gathered in the Patent Office to celebrate his reelection and the winding down of the Civil War, with dancing and food. Dinner was served at midnight on a 250-foot buffet table, which, according to news sources of the time like The Washington Evening Star, may have been too long of a wait for hungry attendees: “The floor of the supper room was soon sticky, pasty and oily with wasted confections, mashed cake and debris of foul and meat.” The buffet offered a variety of savory dishes such as veal Malakoff, tongue en gelee, and terrapin stew, as well as sweets like almond sponge cake, calfsfoot and wine jelly, and ice cream. Vegetables did not appear to be a priority.
Last meal served on the Titanic
The Titanic sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg. For many passengers, the previous evening’s dinner would be their last. What they had for their last meal would have depended on which class they were in, and there were huge differences between a 1st and 3rd class meal. Quite a few 1st class menus survived the sinking, as they were still in the pockets of the upper class that made it off the ship in time. The menu from April 14th (pictured below) consisted of 10 courses, with sumptuous dishes such as consommé Olga, filet mignons Lili, and peaches in chartreuse jelly. The 2nd class passengers enjoyed a pared down version of the menu, while the 3rd class passengers received an even more basic (but hearty) meal.
First meal on the moon
Apollo 11 brought Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon on July 20, 1969, where they stayed for a total of 21.5 hours. Of course they needed to eat, so what was the first meal eaten on the surface of the moon? NASA says the three astronauts chowed down on bacon squares, sugar cookies, peaches, pineapple-peach drink, and coffee.
The Wright brothers’ first flight
Flight pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright set up camp at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1900, choosing the spot for their flight tests for its breezes, soft sand, and reclusive location. Unfortunately for them, this meant access to fresh food was rather limited, and they survived for the most part on eggs, potatoes, and canned goods. The two brothers split the kitchen duties, with Wilbur taking care of the dishwashing, while Orville handled the cooking. Because of short supplies, Orville took to experimenting in the small kitchen (pictured below) with various biscuit recipes, often making as many as three batches per day. His experiments included milk-less biscuits and biscuits without shortening, which is what the brothers ate on the morning of their first flight, along with coffee.
Elvis Presley’s wedding
Elvis and Priscilla Presley were married in an 8-minute ceremony on the morning of May 1, 1967, at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. The ceremony was followed by a $10,000 breakfast reception, which included ham and eggs, Southern fried chicken, oysters Rockefeller, roast suckling pig, poached and candied salmon, lobster, and eggs Minnette. It’s rumored that Elvis wasn’t a fan of the food offered, with the exception of the ham and eggs and the fried chicken. The wedding cake was a 6-tiered yellow sponge cake filled with apricot marmalade and a kirsch flavored Bavarian cream. The cake reportedly cost $3,200 (that’s nearly $23,000 by today’s standards)!
We think that these menus not only provide us with valuable insight into the past, but serve as a reminder that we all share a common love for the delicious things in life. But what do you think? Would you like to try these historic meals?