Portrait of a recipe

Given Debra Oswald’s novel The Whole Bright Year is set on a peach farm in Australia, and given Dame Nellie Melba was such an Australian icon, we settled on a Peach Melba Eton mess as our dessert. After all, what could be more peachy, or Australian, than a Peach Melba, right? As it turns out, the Peach Melba was actually invented by a French chef in the 1890s named Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, in honour of Australia’s great soprano.

In 1892, Nellie Melba was performing in Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden and a dinner party was staged by the Duke of Orleans to celebrate the performance. To do the occasion justice, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream and were topped with spun sugar.

At Word of Mouth TV, we had nothing so elaborate as an ice swan at hand (without which the dish can look quite prosaic), so we presented it as an Eton Mess, a traditional English dessert consisting of strawberries, meringue and whipped cream.

First mentioned in print in 1893 (a year after Escoffier invented the Peach Melba), it is said to have originated from Eton College to be served at the annual cricket match against the pupils of Harrow School. Later, it was served in the 1930s in the school’s “sock shop” (tuck shop/canteen).

  • 1/2 cup caster sugar

  • 2 tbsp orange blossom water

  • 350g frozen raspberries

  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier liqueur (optional)

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

  • 4 large peaches, pitted and sliced

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  • Whipped cream

  • Crumbled meringues


Combine sugar and orange blossom water in a heavy cast-iron saucepan. Stir to combine. Cook on low for 5 minutes or so.

Add frozen raspberries and stir. Add Grand Marnier and cook 2 mins. Allow to cool. Pour into blender and pulse a few times till pureed. Pour puree through a fine mesh strainer set over a medium-size bowl.

You can store in the refrigerator for 5-7 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months, or use it immediately.

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add 4 large pitted and sliced peaches to pan; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon to pan.

Cook 1 minute or until sugar melts, stirring occasionally

In a large bowl, whip cream with a dash of orange blossom until soft peaks form.

Fold in meringues, caramelised peach slices and raspberries.

Drizzle whipped cream with 2 tablespoons berry puree and lightly fold so the mixture has stripes of puree.

Spoon into chilled bowls; top with remaining raspberries, peaches and berry puree.


Image Credit: Gaetan Selle