The Belle Époque, known in America as the “Guilded Age,” lasted roughly between 1890 and the onset of WWI. Auguste Escoffier was its most renowned chef, and he paid homage to its most renowned soprano, Australian Nellie Melba, by naming two of his creations in her honor: Melba toast (very thin dried toast that he made for her when she was ill), and Peaches Melba. The original was vanilla ice cream topped with peaches and served in an elaborately carved ice swan. Later Escoffier ditched the swan and added a red raspberry sauce. Today anything in a dish combining red raspberries and peaches is usually called “Melba.”
This recipe is my adaptation of one that’s in the current issue of Saveur magazine in an article about Minnesota State Fair Food: It was a blue ribbon winner for Jean Peno. While I give kudos to Peno for her inspired idea, I wasn’t fond of the amount and kind of spices she used: cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, which usually flavor fall pumpkin pies. My version uses just a touch of cinnamon, which lets the fruit flavors shine.
Pastry for a 9-inch two-crust pie (For tips on making pie pastry as well as a recipe and thoughts on the best shortenings to use, see my 10/22/08 RealCuisine column on IT’s website)
• 6 T. all-purpose flour
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 4 c. sliced firm, but fully ripe, peaches, peeled or not, as you prefer
• 2 T. lemon juice
• 1 c. red raspberries
• 1 T. peach schnapps or peach brandy, optional
• 3 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
• 1 beaten egg, optional
• Sugar to sprinkle over the top, optional
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roll out the pastry for the bottom crust, fit it into the pie tin; including the pastry overhanging the edges. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon and sugar. Slice the peaches about 1/2-inch thick directly into the bowl with the flour/sugar mixture to catch the peaches’ juices. Gently combine, then very gently mix in the raspberries.
Roll out the top crust at least a couple inches diametrically larger than the pie tin. Remove the bottom crust from the fridge. Pour the filling into it, then sprinkle the butter cubes over the top.
Cover with the top crust. Crimp the edges and trim off any excess pastry. Cut several slits in the top crust. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake about 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a rack. Served warm (not hot) or at room temperature.
A scoop of vanilla ice cream brings the pie closer Peach Melba’s origins.
Makes one 9-inch pie.