Downton Dish: Peach Melba

Dame Nellie Melba is in the house! To put that in perspective, for this crowd and this time, it’s roughly like Niles and Frasier Crane getting Pavarotti to sing at one of their dinner parties. Or having Kanye West or Katie Perry play at your birthday party (depending on your musical tastes). It was a pretty big deal—after all, this is a woman that had not one, but two foods named after her.

Since Melba toast is about the most boring thing you can possibly choke down, we’re going to go with Peach Melba this week. Peach Melba was invented by celebrated chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel in 1892 or 93, when Melba was performing in Lohengrin at Covent Garden. Escoffier was called upon to create a new dessert for the dinner the Duke of Orleans gave in Melba’s honour. The original dish took the shape of an ice sculpture swan carrying peaches, resting on a bed of vanilla ice cream. By the turn of the century, Escoffier had eliminated the swan and introduced a raspberry puree topping. If you’re not a fan of peaches or raspberries, there’s a lot of variation allowed in this dish. Use pears, apricots, or whatever your favourite fruit is in place of the peaches, and you can also sub out the raspberry sauce for something more to your liking.

Peach Melba

Serves 4

4 small ripe peaches

Squeeze of lemon juice (a couple of teaspoons) (optional)*

250 g raspberries (thawed, if frozen)

2T sugar

Vanilla ice cream

Combine 400ml water, the lemon juice, and the sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium low and poach the peaches whole in the sugar water. When tender, remove the peaches, skin them (plunging them into a bowl of cold water can help with this), halve them and remove the stones. Set aside.

Combine the raspberries and a tablespoon or two of the poaching liquid in a food processor and whizz until smooth. Force the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds (you can also use ready-purchased raspberry coulis, if you prefer)

Place the peach halves in a dish, along with a scoop of ice cream. Spoon the raspberry sauce over the top and serve.

*If you have a serious sweet tooth, go ahead and leave the lemon juice out. The poached peaches can come out extremely sweet, and the lemon juice not only cuts that, it also brightens the flavour of the fruit. If you don’t have any lemon juice on hand, it’s not the end of the world (or the dessert)

Recipe by Nigel Slater, Image courtesy

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