[Eds: Two Debs in a row! We are very lucky this week!]
The Rise and Fall – and Rise – of “Melba” Toast
Melba toast started out as “Toast Marie”, named after Marie Ritz, wife of Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz, invented for her by chef and friend Auguste Escoffier after Marie commented that she could never find thin enough toast.
Escoffier renamed the thin, crisp snack “Melba toast” in 1897 when he was working with Cesar Ritz at London’s Savoy Hotel and opera singer Dame Nellie Melba was staying there. Dame Melba reputedly ate Melba toast regularly when she was sick that year.
Apparently Marie Ritz, who ran Paris’s Ritz hotel after the death of her husband, was savvy enough about the hotel business not to mind the name change.
Dame Nellie Melba, whose real name was Helen Porter Mitchell, formed the surname of her stage name from that of her hometown: Melbourne, Australia. She must have been popular; Peach Melba is also named after her. How many people have two dishes named after them, I’d like to know? What would you even have to do to have that happen now…?
In 1925, the ironically-named Mayo Brothers prescribed an “Eighteen Day Reducing Diet” to Ethel Barrymore (Drew’s great aunt) that included Melba toast, making today’s guest dish almost as popular as the movie star required to consume it.
But, as with most popular icons (take William Shatner for instance), the heady heights of fame and fortune gradually fade. Melba toast, once the comfort of the most glittering stars, has now become an over-processed cracker sometimes given to teething infants as a hard yet malleable substance to chew on.
So it falls to us to resurrect the glory days of this humble yet inventive little cocktail buddy. Taking a leaf out of Escoffier’s book, I hereby re-name it “Eva Toast” after 365 Foods’ Eva. Ha! You just need one more, Eva, and you’re neck and neck with Nellie in the foods-named-after-you department.
Of course the toast is nought without its friend the topping (no off-colour jokes about Eva’s husband now), and so I chose to make a White Bean and Smoked Fish Brandade to accompany Eva Toast into a new and shining chapter of the history of this storied snack.
Melba (Eva) Toast
Cut very thin rounds of white bread (I used baguette), roll thin, and toast.
White Bean and Smoked Fish Brandade
- 19-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1-pound piece smoked whitefish, skin and bones discarded and fish flaked (I used BBQ salmon to create a Pacific twist)
- 1 garlic clove, chopped and mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon salt (I used 2 cloves)
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
Serve brandade with Eva Toasts.