The Case of the Melba Sauce

While doing my research into the origins of popular dishes, cookbooks of the day as well as authors, I often come across random articles.  These are interesting and often kind of hilarious being read in modern times. They are moments in history that while not destined to be written about in history books for all to remember, they do reflect sentiments of the time period they occurred. I figured seeing I enjoy reading and chuckling at the articles, that maybe others would like a glimpse at these lost little moments in time. So without further ado here….


source: The Milwaukee Journal, June 24, 1920

A quick recap of the article in case that small print is hard to read: During the beginning months of Prohibition the federal government was wondering why the peach Melba at the Emery Bird Thayer tea room in Kansas City were selling so well. The dessert is made of ice cream, peaches with a raspberry sauce. I wrote about the origins of the dessert here. So some Prohibition agents went under cover to try the dessert and confirmed it indeed was delicious.  They confiscated some of the sauce and had a lab test it. To everyone’s surprise, they found out it was 18 1/2 percent alcohol. The owner and a waiter was arrested as well as sent word to investigate the supplier of the sauce that the tea room had been using for over twenty years.


Emery Bird Thayer tea room postcard.  source:

My random thoughts when reading the article: What is the most hilarious part of this article is that the Prohibition agents for the government actually had to have a serious meeting before hand discussing on how they were going to go undercover to order some peach Melbas. Like who was going undercover, how they were going to order the sauce and then how to get said sauce out of the restaurant to be tested. 

Also, you are telling me that in the first five months of Prohibition becoming the law of the land, the agents didn’t have bigger fish to fry than a restaurant serving Melba sauce? These were men who were dealing with speakeasies, bootleggers and other criminal elements around the illegal alcohol black market but instead Melba sauce was to be their focus that month.

Though to be quite honest I don’t believe in the article that the owner didn’t know about the 18 1/2 percent alcohol content of the Melba sauce. I can taste when I use just two tablespoons of sherry when cooking.

Let me know your thoughts on the article! Do you believe the owner didn’t know about the contents of the sauce?



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