Summer is on it’s way out, and along with it some of my favourite fruits which I will not see for another year. Two fruits which I love and have been readily available these last few months are raspberries and peaches – two reasons to love Summer! Needless to say our refrigerator has been stuffed with these fruits, as well as other seasonal goodies, which I’ve put into puddings, fruit salad, or eaten them just as they are.
As both raspberries and peaches are the chief ingredients of a peach Melba, it wasn’t long before thoughts turned to this retro pud. As a child I was very familiar with peach Melbas because they were EVERYWHERE! Not only was my mum a huge peach fanatic, but it was also served up in restaurants and at dinner parties; featured in the recipe section of magazines, and appeared on cooking shows. Peach Melba was as common a dessert back in the ’80s as panna cotta is now.
But as with many of my childhood desserts, the dish which Nigella Lawson rightly describes as ‘summer on a plate’ went from being everywhere to disappearing without a trace. Even Baked Alaska made an appearance on The Great British Bake Off this week!
Peach Melba is such a delicious dessert which I hope (please, please!) counts towards your five-a-day. Peaches and raspberries are a gorgeous combination and it’s a great way to make use of the two fruits are in abundance at the moment. It’s just a shame everyone’s forgotten about it!
SO WHAT IS PEACH MELBA?
The peach Melba is a simple, well-known, classic dessert. This creamy, cool, and fruity pud consists of vanilla ice-cream, peaches and a raspberry sauce – in some ways, a kind of ice-cream sundae.
THE HISTORY BEHIND THE DESSERT
The dessert was first created in the 1890s. it’s something of an international dessert because it was created in London by a French chef – Georges Auguste Escoffier – in honour of the Australian opera singer Nellie Melba who this dish is named after. Incidentally Melba toast is also named after her.
The original peach Melba is believed to have been poached, skinned, and sliced before being sprinkled with sugar and cooled. This was then placed onto vanilla ice-cream and then drizzled with a sweet, seedless raspberry sauce. Escoffier insisted that the dessert should be served in a silver dish.
But the version we are more familiar with sees the peach halved before being poached in a sugar syrup.
WHEN WAS IT POPULAR?
I know Peach Melba was all the rage in the 1980s when I was growing up until about the early ’90s. I’m sure it must have been very popular in the preceding decades to but it’s hard to determine when it was at it’s most popular as there’s so little information available.
DECLINE IN POPULARITY
It’s not known why this dessert isn’t as popular now as it once was. It’s just simple gone out of fashion just as clothes and hairstyles often do. It could be that it has quite an old-fashioned image or perhaps it’s considered to be too simplistic and has been ousted by more seemingly sophisticated desserts which everyone now has more of a taste for.
THE LEGACY LIVES ON…
Peach Melba isn’t altogether ‘off the menu.’ Some chefs have revamped the humble Peach Melba for the twenty-first century in terms of appearance and ingredients so it’s shaken off it’s retro image. The combination of peaches and raspberries is still very much used in cooking, which isn’t a surprise because the flavours and colours work so well together. So even though the actual dessert isn’t so common now, the flavour profile is still very much evident, and the fact that any dish containing peaches and raspberries is referred to as ‘Peach Melba’ indicates that this classic pud still continues to live on albeit in a different form. So now we have Peach Melba cheesecakes, trifles, pies, tarts, tortes, ice-creams, roulades, martinis, smoothies, sorbets and even a Peach Melba… Baked Alaska!
So if you’d like to set your senses alight to the fabulous flavours and textures of a Peach Melba, here’s a recipe for Nigella Lawson’s take on this pud for you to try.
for the peaches
- 750 ml water
- 700 grams caster sugar
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 vanilla pod (split lengthways)
- 8 peaches
for the raspberry sauce
- 375 grams raspberries
- 25 grams icing sugar
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 large tub vanilla ice cream
- Put the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla pod into a wide saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar.
- Bring the pan to the boil and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes, then turn the pan down to a fast simmer.
- Cut the peaches in half, and, if the stones come out easily remove them, if not, then you can get them out later.
- Poach the peach halves in the sugar syrup for about 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
- Test the cut side with the sharp point of a knife to see if they are soft, and then remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.
- When all the peaches are poached, peel off their skins and let them cool (and remove any remaining stones).
- If you are making them a day in advance, let the poaching syrup cool and then pour into a dish with the peaches.
- Otherwise just bag up the syrup and freeze it for the next time you poach peaches.
- To make the raspberry sauce, liquidize the raspberries, icing sugar and lemon juice in a blender or else a processor.
- Sieve to remove the pips and pour this fantastically hued puree into a jug.
- To assemble the peach melba, allow two peach halves per person and sit them on each plate alongside a scoop or two of ice cream.
- Spoon the raspberry sauce over each one, and put the remaining puce-tinted red sauce in a jug for people to add themselves at the table.