History of Peach Melba

When I was younger Peach Melba was a dish that held such mystery to me.  What was a melba and how did it connect to the peach?  I was quite surprised when I found out as I got older that it was a pretty simple dessert!

Who and where was the Peach Melba created?

 

 

So it is agreed upon the famous French chef George Auguste Escoffier made the dessert for the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba. What is a little more murky is the reason why as there a few different stories of Peach Melba’s origins. So here are the contenders:

1. The most popular tale is that Escoffier created the dish to serve at a Savoy Hotel party to honor Nellie Melba and the opening of the romantic opera Lohengrin in London. This was in 1892 when Escoffier was the chef at the hotel. An addition to this story sometimes is that after hearing her sing, he was so inspired that he created Peach Melba.

2. In a 1909 biography written about Nellie Melba, the dish was created not at the Savoy Hotel but instead later at the Ritz-Carlton in London where the opera singer was staying during her 1898-1899 tour. The story goes that the singer asked for peaches and ice cream so much that Escoffier, who was now working at the Ritz-Carlton, then created the dessert.

3. The third story comes from Nellie Melba’s 1925 autobiography Melodies and Memories. In it she says that it indeed was the Savoy Hotel but instead during the years 1904-1905 when Escoffier created the dish for her. It has been noted that there is a small conflict to this because Escoffier left the hotel in 1898. In her autobiography, she remembers the day she received Peach Melba for the first time. “There arrived a little silver dish which was uncovered before me with a message that Mr. Escoffier had prepared it especially for me. Much as Eve tasted the first apple, I tasted the first Peach Melba.”

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What ingredients are in Peach Melba?
Escoffier stated that “Peach Melba is a simple dish made up of tender and very ripe peaches, vanilla ice cream and a puree of sugared raspberry. Any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its tastes.” Today and as in the mid century that dish is simply peaches over vanilla ice cream topped with a raspberry sauce.

When was Peach Melba popular?
It became quite popular around the time it was created. Which is no surprise as Nellie Melba was very famous in her day with many products using her face and name to increase sales. The dessert was mentioned in Edith Warton’s 1905 novel The House of Mirth. Supposedly in 1906 was the first time the recipe appeared on an American menu.

1950sSealtestPeachMelbaIcecreamAdLifeMag

Sealtest Peach Melba Ice Cream magazine ad from the 1950s. Source: Life Magazine.

The mid century also showed great interest in Peach Melba which was considered a quite elegant dessert. The dish appeared on hotel menus and in dining room dinner parties alike. In the 1950s, a bottled Melba sauce was on the markets as well as peach Melba flavored ice cream. In cookbooks, you can find recipes for peach Melba pies and cakes as well as other dishes based on the peach raspberry flavoring.

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Why should I try this dish?
Well lets be honest if you don’t like peaches, vanilla ice cream nor raspberries there is little I can do to convince you to try it. If you like all three then this is the dessert for you. The dish is easy to put together and makes quite a pretty presentation.

How do I make Peach Melba?

Peach Melba

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A easy mid century dessert of peaches and ice cream topped with raspberry sauce that hails from the late 1800s.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces of fresh or thawed frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/4 cup red currant jelly
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kirsch (completely optional)
  • sliced peaches either fresh or canned
  • vanilla ice cream

Directions

  1. Mix together the raspberries, water, jelly and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Bring to a boil and stir constantly while mashing the raspberries for five minutes until it starts to thicken.
  3. Put the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and add the Kirsch if using.
  4. Chill sauce (it will thicken more as it cools).
  5. Serve over ice cream and peaches.


Sources:

Clairborne, Craig. Craig Claiborne’s The New York Time’s Food Encyclopedia. New York: Wings Books, 1994.

Maddox, Gaynor. “Peach Melba is a Perennial Favorite”. Warsaw Times-Union. May 22, 1968.

Mariani, John. The Encyclopedia American Food and Drink. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2013.

“Peach Melba Created in London is Still American Favorite”. Youngstown Vindicator. Jan. 2, 1956.

“Peach Melba – The Auguste Escoffier Way”. Melba Magazine. Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. 4, 2017

Shertan, Mimi. 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List. USA: Workman Publishing Company, 2015.

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