Bakery Bulletin by Philippa Kelly: What’s in a name?

Peach Melba
Peach Melba

Would Judy ever have been to Oz if she had kept her real name?

It’s Frances Gumm, so maybe not.

Would Breakfast At Tiffany’s still have starred Audrey if her name had remained Edda Kathleen Von Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston? I’m not so sure.

And what about if Issur Danielovich Demsky had auditioned for Spartacus? We’ll never know, but Kirk is certainly catchier.

Helen Porter Mitchell is not the most memorable of names, and if you know who she is, you’re either weird or you’ve read ahead.

Peach Mitchell and Mitchell Toast just don’t have the same ring to them, but Helen’s name-change wasn’t in order to improve her culinary appeal.

As well as being Escoffier’s muse, Helen was also an opera singer; a soprano to be precise.

She chose Melba as her surname to pay homage to her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, and Nellie as her first name, perhaps after the elephant, but it’s unlikely, as Nellie the elephant packed her trunk a full twenty five years after Nellie Melba’s trunk was packed for the last time.

You see, what I did there was use the trunk as a metaphor for Nellie dying. Clever, isn’t it.

In 1893, Nellie Melba was starring in Wagner’s opera - Lohengrin - in Covent Garden. Lohengrin was a knight of the Holy Grail, and married Nellie’s portrayal of a wrongly accused woman called Elsa, but not the one who can’t Let It Go.

To celebrate Nellie’s star turn, a party was thrown in her honour by the Duke of Orleans. It was held at the Savoy Hotel, London (where else, darling) and the head chef, and godfather of French cuisine, Auguste Escoffier created a new dessert especially for Nellie.

Has anyone else got Dilemma stuck in their head? Even when I’m with my boo... No? Then you’re either too old or too young.

Escoffier used an ice sculpture of a swan (there are swans in the opera) and put vanilla ice-cream on it, topped it with peaches and spun sugar, and called it Peach Melba.

In 1900, for the opening of the Cartlon Hotel, Escoffier added raspberry puree and didn’t bother with the swan, but still called it Peach Melba. Three years prior, because one dedication to Nellie wasn’t enough, Escoffier totally overcooked some really thin bread and called it Melba Toast.

Is it just me, or does a bowl of ice-cream, fruit, and puree sound kind of mediocre?

I feel like Escoffier really could’ve done better. It’s like if Gordon Ramsay wanted to honour Katherine Jenkins so gave her a bowl of Carte d’Or with apricots and sauce - calling it Apricot Jenkins doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

Escoffier once said that “any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its taste”, but I disagree because I sliced a peach, threw it away, and then ordered the Cinnamon Knots from Papa John’s, called it Peach Melba, and the delicate balance of its taste was not ruined.

Take that, Escoffier, hardly anything you made was vegan anyway. Ramsay, I love you. Not because of your food though. It’s your face.