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Comfort Food #14: Peach Melba

 

 

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.

 

INGREDIENTS:

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

to serve

  • 1 large tub vanilla ice cream

METHOD:

  1. Put the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla pod into a wide saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Bring the pan to the boil and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes, then turn the pan down to a fast simmer.
  3. Cut the peaches in half, and, if the stones come out easily remove them, if not, then you can get them out later.
  4. Poach the peach halves in the sugar syrup for about 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
  5. 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.
  6. When all the peaches are poached, peel off their skins and let them cool (and remove any remaining stones).
  7. If you are making them a day in advance, let the poaching syrup cool and then pour into a dish with the peaches.
  8. Otherwise just bag up the syrup and freeze it for the next time you poach peaches.
  9. To make the raspberry sauce, liquidize the raspberries, icing sugar and lemon juice in a blender or else a processor.
  10. Sieve to remove the pips and pour this fantastically hued puree into a jug.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

 

 
 

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Comfort Food #7: French Toast

 

You wouldn’t believe how something so inexpensive and so simple to make could be so tasty!

Even now when I bite into a warm slice of just-out-of-the-pan French toast, it brings back such wonderfully comforting memories. We never grew up calling this delicious snack eggy bread like most people did; instead it was the more fanciful French toast. And until today, I didn’t realise that it was also called Gypsy toast!

Mmm... Yummy French toast!

Mmm… Yummy French toast!

 

I think I might have been about five when Mum first made this for me and my sister. I was a very fussy eater and it was very difficult for my mum to get me to eat anything. I’d never finish meals and would only ever pick at my food. However, when I first tried French toast it was definitely love at first bite! I couldn’t get enough of this yummy fried bread. It was quite good for my parents because growing up, we didn’t really have a great deal of money, so Mum must have been thrilled that the one thing I wanted to stuff my face with was as cheap as… well, a loaf of bread! French toast was very much a firm favourite in our house when I was growing up, not just with me but with all of us.

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

 

That’s hardly a surprise considering that French toast is eaten practically all over the world, so it really is a very popular dish. It’s unclear where or when this dish was created and by whom. It may not even have originated in France!

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

 

The earliest form of French toast is believed to have originated as far back as the fourth century, when it was found in a collection of Latin recipes. In Sweden, Finland and Norway, French Toast is known as ‘poor knights’ after the fourteenth century German name for this dish Arme Ritter.

The sweet egg and milk mixture

The sweet egg and milk mixture

 

My love for French toast took on another dimension when I met my husband and began my frequent trips to visit him in the States. As an American, he’d been eating French toast his entire life – well since he was old enough to eat anyway! But there were two major differences: in America, French toast is eaten as a breakfast food rather than an anytime snack, accompanying bacon and eggs, and served with lots of maple syrup. Furthermore, French toast in the States is always a sweet dish whereas Mum’s French toast was always savoury. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone other than Mum who made the savoury version.

French toast cooking away!

French toast cooking away!

 

My love for French toast took on another dimension when I met my husband and began my frequent trips to visit him in the States. As an American, he’d been eating French toast his entire life – well since he was old enough to eat anyway! But there were two major differences: in America, French toast is eaten as a breakfast food rather than an anytime snack, accompanying bacon and eggs, and served with lots of maple syrup. Furthermore, French toast in the States is always a sweet dish whereas Mum’s French toast was always savoury. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone other than Mum who made the savoury version.

And into the pan they go!

And into the pan they go!

 

I saw an episode of Nigella Express where she made jam doughnut-flavoured French toast. I didnt even know such a thing existed! It sounded like a fried piece of heaven and I cannot wait to get stuck into that. French toast may be quite a simple concept but with so many variations it has become something quite spectacular. I’ve heard that there are even French toast cupcakes! I’ve never seen one before nor eaten one but I plan on rectifying that situation!

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

 

I suppose it sounds as though I’m more geared towards sweet French toast but I do think both the sweet and savoury versions are equally tasty. I couldn’t choose between the two types. And neither could I choose between Mum’s savoury French toast and my brother-in-law Dizzy’s yummy sweet cinnamon version. So I’ve included the recipes for both. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

MUM’S SAVOURY FRENCH TOAST

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:
2 slices of sliced white bread, cut in half, crusts on.
1 large egg
1 tbsp. semi skimmed milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying

METHOD:

  • Heat a little oil in a frying pan. just enough to stop the bread sticking to the pan.

  • Mix together egg, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl.

  • Plunge each piece of bread into the egg mixture so that it is well coated on both sides.

  • When pan is hot, add bread.

  • Cook until side is golden brown then flip over and cook the other side.

  • Eat!

Simple yet delicious!

Dizzy’s Cinnamon French Toast

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

 

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:

2 slices cinnamon bread or cinnamon raisin bread

1 large egg

1 tsp. sugar

A dash of vanilla extract

Oil for frying

Butter and maple syrup to serve

METHOD:

  • Heat oil in pan.

  • Mix together egg, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

  • Coat each side of the bread with the egg mixture.

  • Brown each side.

  • Serve with butter and maple syrup

Note: If you cannot find cinnamon bread, you can add a 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon to the egg mixture. Butter can be used instead of oil for frying, and the French toast can even be deep fried in very hot oil. All depends on how health conscious you want to be!

 
 

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