When the celebrated French chef August Escoffier invented Pêche Melba — a rich but light dessert of peaches, raspberries, and ice cream, named for the “Australian Nightingale” Nellie Melba — surely he could never have predicted how his original recipe would change over the next few years!
Here are six different versions of Pêche Melba (Peach Melba), dated between 1909 and 1921. Of particular interest is the mention, in one recipe from 1910, of a commercially available Peach Melba sauce — most likely a raspberry syrup.
Mendelssohn Club Cook Book (1909):
Pêche Melba I
Cook halves of peaches in sugar syrup flavored with vanilla; serve on a round slice of angel cake or sponge cake on which has been placed a layer of vanilla ice cream. Pour over the whole a syrup made of raspberry juice sweetened and slightly thickened.
From the Mendelssohn Club Cook Book, this recipe is attributed to Mrs. Daisy Force Scott :
Peche Melba II
Cut with a cooky cutter a round slice of pound cake about 3/4 inch thick. Put this in the bottom of a champagne glass. Surround this with preserved raspberries or strawberries. Lay on the cake 1/2 canned peach hollow side up. Fill the hollow with ice cream and cover with the other half of the peach. Pour over this a rich claret sauce. Finish with a puff of whipped cream on top.
Modern Meatless Cookbook, House of Rest (1910):
2 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Peaches, canned or fresh
Beat yolks and sugar, add water, baking powder, flour and whites of eggs. Pour into greased pan and cover dough with fruit. Bake from a half to three-quarters of an hour. Serve with whipped cream.
Brockton Hospital Cook Book, The Brockton Hospital Ladies’ Aid Association (1910):
Pêche Melba — Mrs. John Q. Ford.
Choose large, fair peaches; peel and cut in halves, removing the stones. Take as many rounds of sponge cake as there are halves of peaches; cover each round with a rich fruit juice, such as pineapple (sugar can be added to canned pineapple juice and cooked down to a syrup) and place a half of peach on each round of cake; fill the cavities of the peaches with a rich vanilla ice cream with bits of cherries on top. A Melba sauce comes in bottles for Pêche Melba.
Modern Dietetics, Lulu Graves (1917):
Peach MelbaPlace in bottom of dish 1/2 of a preserved peach ; cover with layer of ice cream, laying the other half of the peach on top; cap with 1 spoon whipped cream; pour over 1 tablespoon peach syrup ; garnish with crystal cherries.
The Bride’s Cook Book (1918):
Put one half of a DEL MONTE Canned Peach in the bottom of a sherbet glass, cover with vanilla ice cream, set the other half of a peach on top, cap with a tiny pyramid of ice cream and pour 2 tablespoons of peach sirup over each serving.
Fruits And Their Cookery, Harriet S. Nelson (1921)
Cut sponge cake in thin slices and cut off outside edges. Lay half a canned peach on each slice, fill the cavities with bits of pineapple and candied cherries. Cover with vanilla ice cream, pour a little pineapple syrup over the top and garnish with cherries. Very rich.
The variations on Escoffier’s famous dessert recipe show just how irresistable it is for cooks to put their own stamp on a dish — or perhaps that the deceptive simplicity of Escoffier’s invention missed the mark with a typical American hostess of the early 20th Century?