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Entry from August 23, 2009
Peach Melba (Pêche Melba)

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Peach Melba
The Peach Melba is a classic dessert, invented in 1892 or 1893 by the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, London to honour the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931). It combines two favourite summer fruits: peaches and raspberry sauce accompanying vanilla ice cream.

In 1892, Nellie Melba was performing in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party to celebrate her triumph. For the occasion, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream and which were topped with spun sugar. In 1900, Escoffier created a new version of the dessert. For the occasion of the opening of the Carlton hotel, where he was head chef, Escoffier omitted the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée. Other versions of this dessert use pears, apricots, or strawberries instead of peaches, and/or use raspberry sauce or melted red currant jelly instead of raspberry purée.

Wikipedia: Nellie Melba
Dame Nellie Melba GBE (19 May 1861 – 23 February 1931), born Helen Porter Mitchell, was an Australian opera soprano and one of the most famous singers of the late Victorian Era and the 20th century. Melba was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical vocalist. She was also one of the first stage performers (along with Dame May Whitty) to be made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire.
Her name is associated with four foods, all of which were created by the French chef Auguste Escoffier:

. Peach Melba, a dessert
. Melba sauce, a sweet purée of raspberries and redcurrant
. Melba toast, a crisp dry toast
. Melba Garniture, chicken, truffles and mushrooms stuffed into tomatoes with velouté.

Wikipedia; August Escoffier
Georges Auguste Escoffier (28 October 1846 – 12 February 1935) was a French chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who popularized and updated traditional French cooking methods. He is a near-legendary figure among chefs and gourmets, and was one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine. Much of Escoffier’s technique was based on that of Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French Haute cuisine, but Escoffier’s achievement was to simplify and modernize Carême’s elaborate and ornate style.

Alongside the recipes he recorded and invented, another of Escoffier’s contributions to cooking was to elevate it to the status of a respected profession, introducing organized discipline to his kitchens. He organized his kitchens by the brigade de cuisine system, with each section run by a chef de partie.

Escoffier published Le Guide Culinaire, which is still used as a major reference work, both in the form of a cookbook and a textbook on cooking.
César Ritz and the London Savoy
During the summers he ran the kitchen of the Hotel National in Lucerne, where he met César Ritz (at that time the French Riviera was a winter resort). The two men formed a partnership and in 1890 moved to the Savoy Hotel in London. From this base they established a number of famous hotels, including the Grand Hotel in Rome, and numerous Ritz Hotels around the world.

At the London Savoy, Escoffier created many famous dishes. For example, in 1893 he invented the Pêche Melba in honour of the Australian singer Nellie Melba, and in 1897, Melba toast.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
pêche Melba, n.
[< French pêche Melba (also pêches Melba, plural; G.-A. Escoffier Guide Culinaire (1903) 731) < pêche PEACH n.1 + the name of Nellie Melba (see MELBA n.). Compare slightly later PEACH MELBA n.
Escoffier is said to have created peach Melba c1892 in London, although there are apparently no attestations from so early a date.]
[1905 E. WHARTON House of Mirth II. iv. 367 What sweet shall we have today, dear—Coupe Jacques or Pêches à la Melba?]
1907 G. A. ESCOFFIER Guide Mod. Cookery II. xx. 778 Pêches Melba. Poach the peaches in vanilla-flavoured syrup. Dish them in a timbale upon a layer of vanilla ice-cream, and coat them with a raspberry purée.
1928 D. L. SAYERS Unpleasantness at Bellona Club xviii. 214 You’re as cold as a pêche Melba.
1968 D. TANGYE Way to Minack ii. 16, I sat nervously through the soup, roast lamb, pêche melba and coffee, until the chairman rose to his feet.
2003 Daily Tel. (Sydney) (Nexis) 7 Oct., Australian opera star Nellie Melba often dined at the Carlton where Escoffier famously created Peche Melba in her honour.

peach Melba, n.
[< PEACH n.1 + the name of Nellie Melba (see MELBA n.), after PÊCHE MELBA n.]
A dessert of ice cream and peaches served with raspberry sauce or syrup.
1909 W. J. LOCKE Septimus iii. 40 The spoonful of peach Melba which she was going to put in her mouth.
1923 Mrs. Beeton’s All about Cookery 418/1 Peach Melba… Halve and peel the peaches..serve them piled around a mould of vanilla ice cream..pour over a rich raspberry syrup.
1938 Times 19 Aug. 7/3 Future generations may want more chickens and more peach melbas and less bread and cheese.
1951 Good Housek. Home Encycl. 552/1 Melba Sauce, a bright-red sweet sauce made from fresh raspberries and served with fruit sundaes, peach melba and similar desserts.
1993 Taste Aug.-Sept. 28/1 They can be poached in a vanilla syrup… Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream and freshly sieved raspberry sauce and you have peach melba!

Google Books
Some letters of an American woman concerning love and other things
By Sarah Biddle
Philadelphia, PA: International Printing Company
Pg. 69:
Did you ever hear of peche Melba? It is delicious.

6 November 1902, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Womanly Answers to Womanly Questions,” pg. 9:
Peaches Melba.
The Melba peaches are a new dessert very easy to make at home and very pretty in the way it is served. Take a block of ice large enough to hold dessert for the required number. You can cut this yourself or have the iceman cut it.

Now hollow out the inside with a hot iron in the shape of a bowl. Set this on a silver platter and decorate the base with flowers and leaves. Now fill the bowl half full with vanilla ice cream and cover this with stewed peaches cut in half or brandied peaches, and over these pour a cold raspberry sauce.

11 October 1903, Kansas City (MO) Star, second section, pg. 7, cols. 6-7:
Whether Madame Melba really conceived the delicious dessert made in London by the Carleton (sic) hotel, no one knows. However, she gets the credit, as it bears her name—“Peche melba.”

First the largest, sweetest peaches in the market must be chosen. Peel them and put them on ice, not to freeze them, but only to have them very cold. Then mix plain vanilla ice cream with a syrup of raspberries, with some of the whole fruit left in the syrup. After this the ice cream will be half melted, have only a few solid lumps remaining. Arrange the peaches, as many as there are guests, on a deep dish, and pour the cream and raspberries over them and serve. It is also made with strawberries—but the peaches and raspberries together form a flavor unequaled by anything else.

20 August 1904, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 16, col. 4:
A peach dessert called Peche Melba, which was served at a hotel in Vienna, is made as follows: Peel ripe peaches and cover them with hot syrup, just sugar an water. let them remain in the syrup until tender, then take them out to cool, cut them in two, remove stones and put the two halves together again with a layer of ice cream between. Mix crushed strawberries or red raspberries with the syrup, pour around the peaches and serve. Another peach dish found both in Paris and Vienna is similar. Steam the peaches with their skins on by pouring boiling water over them and cover them until they gradually cool. Then skin them, put them in a glass dish and serve, covered with a syrup o sugar, very little water and mashed red raspberries.—Linda Hull Larned.

Chronicling America
19 December 1905, New York (NY) Tribune, pg. 10, col. 2:
“Peaches Melba” is the name given by one of the chefs of a prominent hotel in town to a dainty and delicious dessert which is one of his latest creations. This is the way it is prepared:

For each person take one brandy peach. In a patent grinder crush half a pint of blanched almonds and roll the peaches in the crushed nuts until the entire surface is well covered. In a low, flaring glass dish lay as many pieces of sponge cake as there are peaches and cover each piece of cake with a layer of vanilla ice cream (frozen very hard), an inch deep and trim it smoothly about the edges. Then on each layer of the cream place one peach and pour over all a strawberry sauce, made by pressing preserved strawberries through a fine sieve.

4 February 1906, New York (NY) Times, sec. X, pg. 7, col. 7 ad:
Astrachan Caviar,
Other Foreign Table Delicacies.
5 EAST 46TH STREET, Windsor Arcade.

Google Books
April 1906, Midland Druggist, pg. 720, col. 2:
L. A. Becker in the Soda Fountain tells how to make a new sundae which he has christened “Peach Melba.”

“On a recent visit to New York I discovered in two of its most prominent eating establishments a delicious dessert that is splendidly applicable for serving at a fountain. It can rightly be classed under “Sundaes,” and I am very glad indeed to tell you how to utilize it in a proper manner. On their bills of fare this is called “Peach Melba,” and the name is a splendid one. The peaches used are whole, are imported and are known as “melba” peaches. They are, however, quite expensive, coming in glass bottles three or four to a bottle, and I understand sell for about 60 cents per bottle. Any good American peach will answer the purpose, however, as it would be exceedingly difficult to secure 50 or 60 cents for a sundae, which are the prices charged in these restaurants.

Use half a large preserved peach, free from stone. Place ina suitable glass or china dish of the saucer type. This dish should be about 4 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches from base to rim. Over the peach place a suitable quantity of ice cream, either free from flavor or vanilla flavor, and over the ice cream and peach pour from 2 to 3 ounces of rich and strong strawberry syrup. This syrup should be at least twice the strength of ordinary syrup utilized in the regular manner. A number of strawberries in their whole form can be added.”

8 April 1906, Idaho Statesman (ID), pg. 2 ad:
Peach Melba
(Soda fountain at McCrum & Deary, Druggists—ed.)

19 April 1906, Logansport (IN) Daily Pharos, pg. 8, col. 3:
Peach Melba Sundae, 10c—Busjahn & Schneider.

4 February 1908, Fort Worth (TX) , pg. 4:
Peaches Melba
Get large halved canned peaches; drain and wipe dry; make plain vanilla ice cream; fill each half in pyramid form and top with a candied cherry.

Chronicling America
8 May 1908, New York (NY) Evening World, “The King of Chefs on Pie and Piety: Escoffier’s Little Sermon on Morality and the Menu” by Henry Tyrell, pg. ?, col. 8:
Famous Peche Melba.
The conversation drifted naturally to M. Escoffier’s own world-famous culinary creations, and he told me the true story of the Peche Melba.

“It was at the Hotel Ritz, in paris,” said he, “that Mme. Melba was singing the praises of the legendary Peche Cardinal, or peach in a red robe of raspberry liquor, and she begged me to give her the recipe. In complying with her wish, I conceived the idea of creating a Peche Melba which should have an element of novelty and yet preserve intact the exquisite raspberry flavor, as well as that of the peach itself. I found that nothing could come nearer in absolute perfection than to lay the delicate peach in a bed of mousse, or vanilla flavored snow, and then cover it over with its original cardinal-red liquor, the coulis de framboise. That was the origin of the Peche Melba, but its public debut was made at the opening of the Carlton Hotel, London.”

“Since which time, it has gone all around the world.”

“The name has at least,” rejoined Escoffier, with a smile and a shrug. “I am told that since my arrival in New York, they have got the ‘Peach Melba’ on the bill of fare at most of the Bowery restaurants—or is it beanerie, you call him?”

Papers Past
2 March 1909, Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), pg. 9:
In a most interesting article in Harper’s Bazaar, by M. Escoffier—cook at the Carlton Hotel, and acknowledged to be the greatest chef in the world—he describes how he was inspired to create some of his dishes.
His Peche Melba—which is renowned as a gastronomical triumph—was thought out and perfected to please Madame Mebla, and was a marvellous arrangment of peaches poached in vanilla syrup, laid upon vanilla ice-cream, and coated with raspberry puree. 

Chronicling America
5 August 1910, New York (NY) Tribune, pg. 5, cols. 6-7:
Escoffier’s Inspiration Has Produced Many Imitations.
The dessert known as pêches Melba seems pre-eminently suited to festive occasions, yet none is more easily prepared at home, and if one has homemade canned fruit on hand and can buy the vanilla cream required at a good confectioner’s, it may even serve as an emergency dessert. The preserved or canned peaches can be flavored with a little vanilla and the juice from a jar of homemade raspberry preserves may be used for the coasting. Like all desserts, this will be a success only with the best of ingredients. Homemade preserves of the ideal variety only should be used, and only the very best of ice cream. Cheap factory cream will cause failure, as it does in most concoctions of the sort.

There are several ways, so-called, of preparing this dessert, but they differ decidedly from the original as invented by Escoffier to please the great singer, who had manifested a fancy for one of his combinations of peach, vanilla and raspberry. According to the original recipe, the peaches are poached in a vanilla flavored syrup, then placed upon a base of vanilla ice cream and coated with raspberry syrup, or what Escoffier calls a “raspberry puree.” The imitations generally contain peaches and vanilla ice cream, but they omit the raspberry puree, and various ingredients are added, such as cherries, pineapple, sherry and even spongecake. Though these concoctions may be good in themselves, the name of the Escoffier confection, which is considered a real culinary inspiration, cannot properly be given to them.

One of these imitations is made by removing the stones from peaches and filling the cavity with ice cream. These are placed on rounds of spongecake and each is topped with a candied or maraschino cherry. For variety the peaches and cake may be coated with preserved pineapple juice, or the cavities of the peaches may be half filled with diced fresh pineapple and preserved cherries chopped in coarse chunks. Sometimes the cake is moistened with sherry and the peaches, filled with vanilla cream, are placed upon it and decorated with cherries.

Chronicling America
28 October 1910, Washington (DC) Herald, pg. 7, cols. 6-7:
A delicious dessert which was first made popular in a New York cafe and named in honor of the Australian song-bird, Nellie Melba, is made by serving vanilla ice cream in the half of a California peach, with raspberry sauce poured over it. The Melba peaches may be bought at a well-known fruiterer’s in G street, between Twelfth and Thirteenth streets, in jars which cost 75 cents.

July 1925, The Caterer and Hotel Proprietors’ Gazette, “The Origin of the Peche Melba” by F. B. Bourne-Newton, Editor of “The Caterer,” London, pg. 38, col. 2:
Twenty-eight years have passed since the appearance of this delicate dessert, the reputation of which is now world-wide.
(Pg. 39, col. 1—ed.)
It was at the opening of the Hotel Ritz at Paris that, after a conversation with the celebrated artists, the idea came to me (Auguste Escoffier—ed.) of giving her (Nellie Melba—ed.) name to my latest creation.

It was not until nine months later, however, at the opening of the Carlton Hotel in London, that I carried out this project. It was in July, the time when peaches are fully ripe, that the “Peche Melba” appeared in a menu of the Carlton. Its success was rapid and decided. Unfortunately I have many times regretted to hear that the true formula has been, more often than not, altered, giving only a very indifferent result.

“Peche Melba” is composed solely of tender and just ripe peaches, of fine vanilla ice-cream and sweetned raspberries. Any departure from this rule depreciates the delicacy of this sweet dish.
(Long recipe follows—ed.)

Google Books
Escoffier: The King of Chefs
By Kenneth James
Hambledon & London
Pg. 202:
August is said to have served his pêche Melba to the famous singer for the first time at the Savoy hotel at a dinner celebrating her appearance as Elsa in Lohengrin at Convent Garden. This may not be the true story.
Pêche Melba didn’t evolve directly from Pêches au cygne, or so Auguste tells us. The story begins after he left the Savoy:

It was at the opening of the Hotel Ritz that Mme Melba told me how she adored Pêche Cardinal au coulis de framboise, and asked me for the recipe, which I was pleased to give her.

It was in writing out the recipe that I conceived the idea of creating the Pêche Melba; but it was important to keep the character of the Pêche Cardinal while finding something new which, rather than cahnging the flavour of raspberry and peach, augmented it.

I found that nothing was more perfect than to lay the delicate
pêche on a bed of vanilla ice cream and to cover it with tis cardinal robe (le coulis de framboise).

It was at that moment that Pêche Melba was created, and it was at the opening of the Carlton Hotel in London that for the first time it took the stage.

This story of the origin of the dessert, largely from its creator, fits all the pieces of evidence available—except one. Nellie Melba’s version is different.
(Nellie Melba claims that she was in the Savoy Hotel when it was first served to her. An “original recipe” follows on page 203—ed.)

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Sunday, August 23, 2009 • Permalink