Dame Nellie Melba

Melba....Melba...how do you know that name, and why is it tied to food? 

While not a familiar name unless you're a history or music geek these days, Dame Nellie Melba was one of the most influential singers of her day . Not much is known about Melba's early life. She was born Helen Porter Mitchell, in Richmond, now a suburb of Melbourne Australia (the source of her stage name Melba).  From what little we know, her early life was difficult. Her mother died while she was young, and conflicts with her family were frequent during her career. While her marriage seemed unhappy as well, only producing one son, her mother in law helped her with social introductions during her early career.

Madam Melba was an infamous diva as well.   The night John McCormack debuted at the London opera, he attempted to take a bow with her, and she pushed him back, declaring that, "In this house, no one takes a bow with Melba."  She was also infamous for getting in the way of other singer's careers.  The public, however, loved her. 

She was so popular that the great chef, Escoffier, who was the Maitre Chef at the Savoy Hotel in London named several creations after her.  The first was Melba Toast, essentially bread that had been toasted, then sliced in half and toasted again so that it was ultra-crisp--the predecessor of modern prepackaged cocktail toasts. 

His next creation in her honor started as a special dessert created for a fancy dinner to celebrate her performance in Wagner's opera Lohengrin, which has a swan boat as a plot device. 
Escoffier had a swan made out of ice, then layered the hollow inside with peaches and ice cream (still a rare treat before modern refrigeration).  Later, he made the swan boat optional (thankfully) and added a raspberry sauce.  Right now is the perfect season for both to be ripe and perfect!

Such a classic dish is simple to make your own, and while I include the origional below compliments of Practically Edible,  here are also some variations by modern chefs!

The original version of Peach Melba is a peach, halved, poached and skinned, then sliced, sprinkled with sugar and cooled.

A raspberry sauce is made with the seeds strained out, sweetened and then chilled.

Ice cream is put into a serving dish, the sliced peaches are arranged on top, then the dessert is drizzled with the raspberry sauce.

(Copyright 2010 Practically Edible. All rights reserved and enforced.) Read more of this snippet here : http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/peachmelba#ixzz0yhd1bL1O

Nigella Lawson's version. 
Bobby Flay's Grilled Peaches "Melba"
Bon Appetite's Peach Melba Shortcakes

Here is a recording of Dame Nellie Melba singing.  I, however, take no reponsibility for the typo in the title.  Enjoy!


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