I rounded a corner in the supermarket the other day and was nearly knocked off my feet by the aroma of hundreds of ripe peaches. Nothing smells as sweetly seductive as a ripe peach, as far as I'm concerned. It was all I could do to keep from ramming the slowpoke ahead of me with my cart to clear the path between me and the mountainous peach display that was calling my name.
When my nose detects ripe fruit in the supermarket produce section, it's usually smelling damaged fruit, since the grocery stores tend not to carry truly ripe fruit. Ripe fruit doesn't ship well, and it has a short shelf life. But these peaches were authentic, melt-in-your-mouth ripe peaches.
This discovery was particularly welcome, since we lost our peach crop in the April freeze. While the yield from our backyard peach trees is somewhat inconsistent, we rarely have a year when we pick no fruit. But this year, we lost all of our peaches, apples and cherries.
What I wanted to do with these peaches was bake a pie or cobbler, but with temperatures in the 90s, I thought better of turning on the oven. Our favorite use for ripe peaches is to slice them atop vanilla ice cream. I also like an occasional peach milkshake.
The thought occurred to me Sunday afternoon that it had been ages since I had eaten Peach Melba. I found several recipes and, instead of raspberries, used blackberries, which I actually prefer for their flavor and juiciness.
Peach Melba is one of those desserts, like Baked Alaska or Bananas Foster, that seems like the sort of thing someone might have served at a 1950s dinner party. But even with an auspicious name like Peach Melba, the dessert is ridiculously simple to prepare. In fact, there's so little to it that the whole thing seems fairly pretentious.
I was interested to learn from several Internet sources that the dessert was invented by a chef at the Savoy Hotel in London in the 1890s to honor an Australian soprano named Dame Nellie Melba.
My re-creation was adapted from a recipe in a cookbook produced by Cooking Light magazine. It was perfect for a steamy July evening.
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and halved
2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla ice cream
Mint sprigs (optional)
Combine first three ingredients in a large skillet. Bring to boil over medium heat. Place peach halves, cut side down, in skillet. Cover and simmer 3 minutes. Turn peaches over and cook 3 minutes or until tender. Drain peaches and discard cooking liquid. Cover peaches and chill 1 hour.
Place raspberries and 1/4 cup water in a food processor. Process 1 minute or until smooth. Strain and discard seeds.
Combine raspberry puree, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Cover and chill.
Place 2 peach halves into each of 5 dessert compotes. Top each with a small scoop of ice cream and 1/4 cup raspberry sauce. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired. Serve immediately.
Makes 5 servings.