Peach Melba (its original title was in French, Pêche Melba) was created in the summer of 1892 at the Savoy Hotel, London by the the great French chef Auguste Escoffier. It honored the renowned Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba (Escoffier also created Melba toast for her).
The dish combined two summer fruits, peaches and raspberries, with vanilla ice cream. Escoffier poached the peach and topped it with ice cream and raspberry purée. Essentially, it’s an ice cream sundae with poached peaches.
But the original Pêche Melba was a bit more elaborate. At the time, Dame Nellie was performing in Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin, at Covent Garden. She was the guest of honor at a dinner party hosted by the Duke of Orléans at the Savoy.
For the party, Escoffier displayed the dessert in a swan ice sculpture. In the opera, the knight Lohengrin arrives and departs in a boat pulled by swans. Here, the ice swan held a bed of vanilla ice cream topped with peaches and spun sugar.
Needless to say, the dessert was the talk of the town—or at least, that portion of town interested in opera and Escoffier.
In 1900, for the opening of the Carlton Hotel in London, Escoffier created an easier version of the dessert. He ditched the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée.
Peach Melba, an ice cream sundae. Photo © Unpict | Fotolia.
Light yet delicious, Pêche Melba became a classic dessert.
The question is, why is National Peach Melba Day in January, when fresh peaches are out of season? Fresh raspberries are almost always available and you can use canned or frozen peaches, although to do so counters the wisdom of eating seasonally. Frozen peaches, are a good substitute.
But celebrate we will, by poaching some Dole frozen peach slices. We actually prefer the slices to Escoffier’s half-peach “cap” atop the ice cream.
PEACH MELBA RECIPE
FOR THE POACHED PEACHES
1. WASH, dry and halve the peaches and discard the pits.
2. COMBINE all ingredients in a large pot. Cover, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.
3. SIMMER until the peaches are slightly softened but not mushy. Frozen peach slices may be there already; whole, less ripe fresh peaches may take 7-10 minutes.
FOR THE RASPBERRY PUREÉ
1. WASH the raspberries, pat dry and purée with other ingredients. Set aside until ready to serve.
FOR THE ASSEMBLY
2. TOP with a peach half or sliced peaches.
3. DRIZZLE with raspberry purée. Garnish as desired.