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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 #9: Summer Pudding

 

It’s summer and the supermarkets are full of seasonal fruit which make an appearance during the brief summer months before they disappear off supermarket shelves. Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants… just perfect for a lovely summer pudding.

 

I think I was probably about five when I first came across a photograph of a delicious looking summer pudding in my mum’s The Cookery Year cookbook. At that age I was a very picky eater who wasn’t happy unless I was stuffing my face with an ample supply of chocolate. So how strange that I should be so enthralled by what is essentially a fruit pudding! I think it was the colours that did it. I was fascinated by the shock of magenta and gorgeous berry tones that made this dessert so appealing which contrasted with the crowning glory that was light, fluffy whipped cream.

 

Summer pudding is a popular, traditional British dessert although it’s origins are unclear. The earliest published summer pudding recipe was published in 1902 by S. Beaty-Pownall however this dessert could have existed since the nineteenth century. It is made by lining a deep dish with sliced white bread before being filled with assorted berries. It is then topped off with a final slice of bread, soaked in the juices of the soft fruit and left overnight before being turned out onto a plate.

 

It is unknown exactly who, why, when or where summer pudding was invented. One possibility is that it was a summer substitute for the heavy, stodgy suet puddings that were popular in winter during Victorian England.
It’s also possible that summer pudding could have been served in health farms where people went to be cleansed and aided in weight loss. Then there’s the belief that it was served in hospitals to the old and infirm as it was easy to digest. It’s beginnings may be shrouded in mystery but summer pudding is more than just an invalid’s dessert!

 

It is better to make this dessert with bread that is slightly stale as this helps the bread to retain a good non-mushy texture once the juice has soaked through. It is traditionally made using raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants though sometimes cherries, blueberries and any other soft fruit that is available can also be used so it’s a great way to take advantage of the fabulous fruit that’s in season – especially as it’s available for such a short time. It is then served with lashings of cream.

 

As with most well known dishes, different variations of this pudding exist. Any variety of soft fruit can be used. Some recipes call for brioche or pannetone to be used instead of white bread. There are recipes which ask for the berries to be stewed while others use raw fruit. There is also an autumnal version of this summer classic which includes pears and plums as well as berries.

 

A summer pudding definitely takes me back to my childhood when I was a kid poring over mum’s cook books – at a time when I could barely read! Unfortunately it wasn’t a dessert Mum ever made for us but we did eat quite a few shop bought ones. Believe me – they’re not as great a good old fashioned homemade pudding whipped up from scratch. And the great thing about a summer pudding is that as impressive looking (and tasting!) as it is, it’s so simple to make. And because it’s packed full of fruit, I don’t even think of it as a pudding but one portion of my five a day!

 

If you fancy whipping up a summer pudding for a new generation to try and making full use of our summer fruits – while we still have them – give this recipe by Gordon Ramsay a go. It tastes amazing!

INDIVIDUAL SUMMER PUDDINGS

 

Makes 8

INGREDIENTS:

1kg mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries)
50g caster sugar
4 tbsp. Crème de Cassis (or water)
800g(approx.) loaf white bread, sliced
Extra berries to serve

METHOD:

  • Strip berries from their stalks and hull strawberries.
  • Toss berries  in a non-stick saucepan with sugar and Cassis or water.
  • Heat the pan until it starts to sizzle. Cook over a medium heat until the fruits start to bleed and soften.
  • Stir gently, then cool to room temperature.
  • Strain fruit through a plastic sieve into a non-metallic bowl until the juices stop dripping.
  • Have 8 cappuccino or tea cups (about 200ml) ready.
  • Using 2 cutters (approx. 10cm and 6cm, but check against the tops and bottoms of your cups), cut out 8 bread rounds of each size.
  • Cut the crusts off 8 more slices and slice in half. These strips should be approximately the same depth as the cups.
  • Dip the small rounds of bread into the reserved juices and press into the cups.
  • Dip the straight slices in the juice and press around the sides.
  • Spoon in the fruits, pressing down with the back of a spoon to firm.
  • Dip the last of the bread rounds into the juice; press down on top. Chill overnight.
  • When ready to serve, loosen bread tops with the tip of a table knife.
  • Hold a dessert plate over the pudding, then turn upside down, shaking well.
  • The puddings should slip out easily; if not, loosen the sides gently with the knife.
  • Pour any remaining juice over the tops of puddings.
  • Decorate with the remaining fruit; serve with pouring cream, clotted cream or mascarpone.

 

 

 
 

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