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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's National Melba Toast Day!

Nellie Melba

My first encounter with Melba Toast was not under the most desirable conditions. I had the measles! And, I had them bad. It wasn't until I was preparing this post when I realized how long ago that was:) Let's just put it this way, doctors still made house calls. My grandmother was staying with us at the time and her "prescription," along with filling the bath tub with ice cold water to bring my 104 degree fever down, was Melba Toast and tea. "What is Melba Toast" you ask? In its most basic form, Melba Toast is dry, crisp, thinly sliced toast. It carries the name Melba Toast because it was named after Dame Nellie Melba by one of her biggest fans, Auguste Escoffier. Well, I suppose he could have called it Helen Porter Mitchell Toast, and used her birth name but that wouldn't have sounded so "romantic" ya think?

...Melba toast is said to be derived from the crisp toast that was part of Dame Melba's diet during 1897 when she was strenuously dieting, living largely on toast. It is said that she so enjoyed a piece of toast a young waiter had burnt, while she was staying at the Savoy Hotel. It was bungled and was served to her in a thin dried-up state resembling parchment. Cesar Ritz beheld with horror his celebrated guest crunching this aborted toast, and hastened over to apologize. Before he could say a word supposedly Madame Melba burst out joyfully, "Cesar, how clever of Escoffier. I have never eaten such lovely toast." The hotel proprietor Cesar Ritz supposedly named it in a conversation with chef Escoffier. (What's Cooking America)

More crumbs on Melba Toast from Who Cooked That Up:

Auguste Escoffier has been called the greatest chef of the 20th century and among his many accomplishments is the creation of Melba Toast. Actually, however, according to Escoffier's biographer, it didn't start out as "Melba" toast.  The story goes like this. Escoffier was a great friend of *Cesar Ritz, the renowned Swiss innkeeper, and he was visiting Ritz and his wife in England sometime in the late 1880's while the Paris Ritz Hotel was being planned.  Mrs. Ritz happened to mention that toast never seemed thin enough for her. Not one to neglect a culinary challenge, Escoffier grilled a piece of toast, split it in half and grilled it again.  Marie Ritz was delighted, and Escoffier referred to it as "Toast Marie." A few years later, while Escoffier was employed as Maitre Chef at The Savoy Hotel in London, where Cesar Ritz was now Manager, the Australian soprano Nellie Melba was staying at the hotel. Escoffier, eager to please his famous guest, noticed that her diet included toast. Recalling his recent creation, he prepared the ultra-thin grilled bread and re-named it "Melba Toast" for the opera singer. Since that time many other dieters, most of them neither famous nor spectacularly talented, have used Melba toast as a way to cut calories and as a platform for snacks, hors d'oeuvres and dips...

Lucky for you, and me, I've posted about Dame Nellie Melba before. (we can head right for the good stuff:) I think it was for National Peach Melba Day when I posted heavenly quick link recipes. Just in case you don't have time to pop over now, let me refresh your memory about Dame Nellie.


Dame Nellie Melba
The Australian songbird, Nellie Melba, was noted for two things other than her voice: She habitually broke men's hearts, and she inspired culinary artists to create dishes and drinks that would forever carry her name. Melba was not as beloved in San Francisco as the motherly Tetrazzini, but she appeared so often in the city that it must have seemed like a second home to her. Her constant appearance, both in concerts and in fine restaurants, conspired to make her a real San Franciscan. (Sumptuous Dining in Gas Light San Francisco p. 71)

Cooking With Melba Toast

Melba toast is usually made by lightly toasting bread. Once toasted, the bread is removed from the toaster and then each slice is cut laterally with a bread knife to make two slices that are half the original thickness of the bread. These two thin slices are then toasted again to make Melba toast. You can also make your own Melba Toast by using bread which has been flattened with a rolling pin and had the crust removed. Although commercially available, homemade Melba Toast is actually pretty easy to make once you "master" the thinning of the toast. Cathy @ The Crafty Cattery has easy to follow directions; so easy!!! Here are a few illustrations from The Book of Garnishes by June Budgen. Melba ToastMelba ToastMelba Toast

It may not seem like a simple piece of toast could be deliciously versatile but indeed it is. Did you know that at one time Melba Toast was given to infants during their teething stages? I suppose when you think about it, Melba Toast is twice burnt toast much like Zwieback Toast. Garnished with a simple Pâté, the handy size of Melba toast makes it fun for appetizers. Personally, I would love to try the Nigella's Smoked Trout Pâté I stumbled upon at Kahakai Kitchen. Deb suggests pumpernickel bread which sounds absolutely delightful too!

How about some herb butter spread on lightly toasted Melba Toast? A little dill a bit of thyme; delightful! The possibilities are endless and so elegant in the right sort of setting such as a cocktail party or a simple weekend get-together. One of my favorite ways to enjoy Melba Toast is with a dollop of fig jam. A perfect "marriage" in my book:)

I've often used Melba Toast as a substitute for bread crumbs or panko too. You just put the Melba Toast in the food processor and process it into fine crumbs. For me it's not quite that simple because I'm still deciding whether I want a food processor. It could take a while:) Melba Toast makes a mighty fine addition to this recipe for Melba Toast Chicken, don't you think?

After "bumping" into Joelen's Caramel Pecan Cupcakes the other day, I took a peek around and found the perfect use for Melba Toast in her recipe for Sausage Apple Dressing. Oh, I know, Spring has sprung and we aren't exactly thinking about stuffing any turkeys, however, it sure sounds good and you may just want to tuck it away for future use.

Quite frankly, I never gave much consideration to Melba Toast as a sweet sort of treat but, just take a gander at these delectables I found at Old London Foods. I mean really, wouldn't you just like to crunch into one right now?

Don't forget, National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day tomorrow!!!

Resources
1. What was so great about Escoffier?
2. Quick recipes that use melba rounds
3. Potted Mackerel & Melba Toast

21 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of Melba Toast, but the Knight takes spells. I'll have to make sure he knows to celebrate today.

    I do confess that a couple of those links are tempting. Any apple-sausage stuffing is hard to resist!

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  2. I always love to read your posts... I find such interesting thing, that I never knew before. LOL
    Seriously, I love the food "history" you write about.

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  3. My grandmother was a big fan of Melba Toast. Me, not so much. Too much crunch for my teeth. but, hey, Melba Toast Day is fun, right?

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  4. I have never had melba toast!
    WHY haven't I???!
    I must give it a go.

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  5. In Germany we don't have Toast Melba, we have Zwieback. If you have problems with your stomach you eat that. I would like to post about peach melba so probably may would be the perfect time.

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  6. I always knew there was a Melba behind this toast! And, who knew you could make it yourself! Thanks for the back-story, Louise!

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  7. It never occurred to me that there was a story behind the toast!
    I went through a serious melba toast and old nippy stage years ago. Now I want some..

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  8. I always get sidetracked. I headed over to get that Sausage Apple Dressing recipe ;)

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  9. I always think of Melba Toast as diet food. So I'm amused that the eponymous Melba was dieting when it received her name -- and I thought dieting hadn't caught on back then.

    best...maefood.blogspot.com

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  10. I've never had melba toast before.

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  11. I've never had Melba toast! Interesting. They'd be delicious with pate...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  12. I'm not sure I've ever had a melba toast actually, interesting to learn more about it.

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  13. I learn something new every time I nibble here.

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  14. Hurray for Melba toast day, I love this stuff ;) thanks for posting!

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  15. Channon: I saved that Apple Sausage Stuffing link too!

    Debbie: Thank you for your kind words. I'm going to try hollyhocks again after seeing how yours are thriving. Thank YOU!!!

    Marjie: In a pinch, Melba Toast works great as a breading, just in case you happen upon it.:)

    Jan: I thought for sure you would have experienced Melba Toast. I do believe it is quite popular in "your neck of the woods."

    Petra: I think Zweibacks are often substituted for Melba Toast in recipes. They are quite similar. Peach Melba; bring it on!!!

    T.W. Nellie Melba sure knew how to keep her name alive!

    Natashya: I can see you baking up a batch of your own. So easy. You shouldn't do without:)

    Sher: I'm delighted you got side tracked. Save that dressing!!!

    Mae: I think of Melba Toast as diet food too. I think the diet phase of the time propelled it into stardom!!!

    Duckie: I think it may be rather bland for you unless, you use it in a pie crust:)

    Pam: It's easy to try it at home. I find it most soothing when I'm not feeling well and crave something light.

    Rosa: Pate and Melba Toast, perfect.

    Natasha: For some it is memorable. For others, not.

    Cynthia: As do I over at your place.

    Patty: Thanks for stopping. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit:)

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  16. I've never had these before! Sounds really good!

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  17. Thanks for dropping by, Sook. Give them a try sometime and let me know what you think:)

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  18. I'm glad you enjoyed this post Tony.

    Stop in anytime. You just never know what foodie day we'll be celebrating...

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none came to early,
none returned to late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise