It sounds like the setup for a Merchant Ivory film: in 1910, the McKee family boarded a ship bound for Europe. When they arrived, their chauffeur was waiting for them with the family car. They spent two months basking in continental culture, and when they returned, the McKees took a celebrated steamer – the R.M.S. Lusitania.
Five years later, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship, one of the most infamous attacks in history.
The McKees’ story surfaced when Julie Christina, education programs manager for the Blithewold estate, discovered a Lusitania dinner menu among the archives. (Blithewold belonged to the McKee family before it became a public museum and arboretum). Inspired, Christina proposed a themed dinner, with a near-exact reproduction of the maritime meal.
“Our archives are fantastic,” marvels Christina. “The menu was in a box of recipes. All the ingredients they had on the Lusitania, we still have.”
The “Steamship Supper,” on March 18, is the third installment of Blithewold’s Supper Club series, hosted in the McKees’ historic dining room. Along with vintage entrees, the dinner will include a presentation by Margaret Whitehead, the estate’s curator. Whitehead has written two books about Blithewold and will display letters, photos, and artifacts from the era.
The evening’s chef is Anna Kelly, an Italian native and veteran restaurateur who recently started volunteering at Blithewold. The dinner will accommodate only 30 guests, but the Blithewold staff hope to continue hosting culinary evenings in the summer, when tables can be moved outside.
The name Lusitania comes with a lot of tragic baggage, but the dinner is the reminder that the ship sailed for eight opulent years before it sank.
“The history of the ship is part of what makes it significant,” says Christina. “Yes, it is attached to something negative, but it was also a luxury ship that everyone wanted to travel on. When you can take a closer look, I think it’s really fascinating.” Bristol, Blithewold.org.