When I lived in New York I would go to the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue once in a while if I was in the neighborhood. I’d treat myself to a Pastrami on Rye, half of which I’d take home. If you’re a New Yorker, or if you’d been lucky enough to eat at the Carnegie when visiting, you understand completely why half of it came home with me.
The restaurant was down the block from Carnegie Hall, and near the Broadway theaters and Times Square. It was packed with tourists day and night, along with a lunchtime business crowd.
Famous for its overstuffed, pound-of-meat sandwiches, as well as for the celebrities who’d dined there, the establishment honored the luminaries by naming sandwiches after them. It was a very funny menu.
The “Fifty Ways To Love Your Liver” sandwich honoring Paul Simon was definitely my favorite name, but just as definitely not my favorite sandwich.
The Carnegie Deli is gone now, closed in 2016 after an almost 80 year run. In my fantasy, if they’d celebrated me with a sandwich, I would have liked it to have been a Bacon and Fried Egg on a Hard Roll with Salt and Pepper. I’d have insisted it be on the menu in French so words like ‘ouef’ and ‘poivre’ could be thrown around when ordering, giving my prestigious sandwich honor even more gravitas and flair.
Over at Carnegie Hall in 1894, a world famous Australian Soprano was making her New York City debut. The Carnegie Deli hadn’t been born yet, but this songbird needed no sandwich in her honor. She already had her own Diva’s dessert, bestowed upon her by the legendary French Chef, Auguste Escoffier. While appearing at Covent Garden in 1892, the opera star was a guest at the Savoy Hotel in London where Escoffier ran the kitchens.
Dame Nellie Melba, her last name created as an homage to her hometown of Melbourne, was the toast of every town (yes, Escoffier named Melba Toast after her, too.) and La Pêche Melba was her dessert.
In it’s first incarnation, Peach Melba was simply vanilla ice cream with a peach on top of a carved ice swan, a nod to a stage prop in the opera she was appearing in.
By 1900, both Escoffier and his business partner Cêsar Ritz had moved on to the Hôtel Ritz in Paris and the Carlton in London after an embezzlement scandal at the Savoy. At this point, Escoffier added raspberry sauce and the dessert we know today was created.
The Escoffier Recipe
La Pêche Melba for 6
Beautiful, easy, just a few ingredients and delicious — the original Peach Melba. Escoffier also mentions putting sliced fresh almonds on top if you like - but only during almond season, he says— never dried.
Ingredients and Method
6 ripe peaches
1 liter vanilla ice cream (4.2 cups)
1 cup fresh raspberries (I used 2, I wanted more sauce)
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
Blanch peaches in just enough water to cover them for about 10-15 seconds. Escoffier recommended 2 seconds but I found it easier to peel after 10-15. Do one or two at a time.
Remove peach and place in ice water immediately for a few seconds.
Gently remove peach skin —it should come off easily, just push or peel off with fingers.
Cut in half and remove pit.
Sprinkle all sides of the peach with granulated sugar and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Press 1 cup raspberries through a sieve or strainer till you have liquid for sauce and discard the seeds.
Sift 2/3 cup confectioners sugar into the raspberry liquid a little at a time and whisk till smooth. Refrigerate for an hour. (I used less sugar, I didn’t want it as sweet)
Chill ice cream sundae or glass dishes (Escoffier used silver timbales) and place two scoops of vanilla ice cream in each. Place the peach halves (or quarters if you prefer) next to/on top of the ice cream. Pour raspberry sauce over peaches and ice cream.
I noticed over the past few weeks both Chef Nigella Lawson and the Gramercy Tavern restaurant in NYC posted beautiful Peach Melba Desserts on their Instagram feeds.
It’s nice to see Dame Nellie’s dessert having yet another encore. 👏 👏 👏
Have a great weekend!
Summer Hours: Time Travel Kitchen will publish every other week until Labor Day, when weekly publishing will resume.
Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire, Auguste Escoffier, 1903, Editions Flammarion
At Carnegie Deli in Manhattan, Just 3 Months of Pastramis to Go, The New York Times, September 30, 2016.
Opera, Escoffier & Peaches: The Peach Melba, Tory Avey, ToriAvey.com, August 22, 2012
Ritz & Escoffier, Luke Barr, 2018, Clarkson Potter