The Story of Peach Melba

comments (0) January 17th, 2009

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Portrait of Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931).Click To Enlarge

Portrait of Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931).

Photo: Henry Walter Barnett

Auguste Escoffier, heralded as the “king of chefs and the chef of kings,” created what was to become a legendary dessert while working at the Carlton Hotel in London. When the great Australian diva, Nellie Melba, planned to dine at the hotel restaurant after her performance in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Escoffier wanted to surprise her by inventing a dish to show his great admiration for her talent. He chose to commemorate the majestic swan that appears in the first act of the opera. He presented her with a silver bowl of poached peaches on a bed of vanilla ice cream, covered with a lace of spun sugar and nestled between the wings of a beautiful swan sculpted from a large block of ice.

The effect was stunning and Madame Melba was delighted. It was years later that the great chef embellished the dessert with a purée of raspberries. Escoffier was appalled at the liberty with which some chefs interpreted his original, replacing the raspberry purée with strawberry jam or currant jelly, or suggesting decorating the peach with whipped cream. “The results obtained,” he defended, “have absolutely nothing to do with the original recipe and could hardly satisfy the palate of a real connoisseur.”

In 1935, The New York Times wrote in Escoffier’s obituary that his peach Melba was the inspiration for the American ice cream sundae.


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