I might never have experienced the unique combination of flavors contained in poached peaches Prinsessa Margaretha had it not been necessary to charm my diplomatic uncle. He was, at the time, the U.S. Minister to Sweden. My husband and I had arrived in Stockholm in late August 1939, a period of developing European war and mounting problems for Uncle Fred [the late Frederick A. Sterling] at the chancellery. Tormented by swarms of stranded American tourists, he greeted my arrival on the scene with marked lack of enthusiasm. He was not a bit encouraged to learn that his niece had writing assignments from several U.S. publications—assignments that might call for his help in arranging introductions and filling me in to some extent on Swedish affairs.
I decided that it was necessary to do something special to win over Uncle Fred. And what better than to arrange a dinner party?
My husband and I issued our invitation from the tiny quarters we were occupying at the Grand Hotel. And on an appointed day we downed a cheap lunch of meat balls and aquavit and walked to what was then the greatest restaurant of all northern Europe, the Opera Kallaren, as expansive as a DeMille movie set to our unaccustomed eyes—and every bit as expensive. The great, kindly presence who received us was no less than Waldemar Ekegardh, the proprietor. (Alas that he is dead now, and the restaurant closed!)
Mr. Ekegardh sat with us and spoke in English, closing his eyes: "We will plan the dinner backwards, beginning with the fact that your aunt likes to drink pink champagne. So I shall make for you my p√™ches pochées for dessert. I will show you, and you will say yes." With this he clapped his hands, and minions arriving with chafing dish and a variety of exotic ingredients produced the tour de force which is shown in preparation on the opposite page. We had to pronounce the dish as delicious as it was spectacular.
March 14, 1960
The night for the dinner arrived. We began with piles of kr√§ftor (a variety of crawfish), that crunchy, doll's-house-size summer lobster. We proceeded to the greatest game bird of northern Europe, orre, or blackcock, served with a purée of rose hips and potatoes Anna. We finished with these heavenly peaches, dressed with preserves and toasted almonds, heaped over ice cream and flambeed in cognac and kirsch. All through the meal we drank an oeil de perdrix Mo√´t & Chandon champagne, 1928, deep rose in color and absolutely perfect. Perhaps needless to relate, the evening was altogether successful in softening my uncle's heart, and I had no difficulty thereafter with my writing assignments.
Ekegardh named his great dessert for Swedish Princess Margaretha, who is married to Prince Axel of Denmark. She and her sisters, the late Queen Astrid of the Belgians and the late Princess Martha of Norway, as young women all attended the famous Stockholm cooking school run by Jenny Akerstrom. When Mrs. Akerstrom put together a book of recipes, she called it Prinsessornas Kokbok, or The Princesses Cook Book, in honor of her royal patrons. Considered a classic on the national cuisine, the book is reprinted regularly in Sweden and appeared in the U.S. in an English translation in 1936. It is interesting to note that The Princesses Cook Book contains no peach dessert similar to Ekegardh's.
His recipe, as given below, calls for poaching the fruit only long enough to allow removal of the skins. Thus the peaches retain a delightfully fresh taste and normal fresh fruit color rather than taking on the darker appearance and syrupy flavor of cooked peaches. The harmonies of taste, texture and temperature of the fruit, ice cream, preserves, almonds and burned-over spirits simply have to be experienced to be appreciated.
The dessert is best made with fully ripened fruit of a white freestone variety such as the peaches brought in at this time of year from Chile and available a little later on from Georgia and other growing areas of the U.S.
POACHED PEACHES PRINSESSA MARGARETHA
Allow one fresh, ripe, white peach per person. Poach these in slightly sugared boiling water, flavored with a piece of vanilla bean, for about two minutes, or just long enough to permit easy removal of the skins. Turn off heat. Fish out the peaches with a ladle, slip off their skins and immerse them again in the liquid to keep warm (and to prevent exposure to air, which would darken the fruit). If the liquid is allowed to cool, warm up before serving time.
At serving time, have ready a chafing dish (or thick pan on the stove) and three jams: strawberry, Bar-le-Duc (or currant jelly) and a preserve of greengage plums. Put a teaspoon of each jam per person into pan, and heat well over the fire together. Add the warm peaches, drained. Now, without stirring, pour on cognac and kirsch—about two tablespoons of each per person—and set alight.
Meanwhile, have a serving of vanilla ice cream put on each plate. Over each serving quickly ladle a peach and a portion of the naming sauce. As a final touch, sprinkle with a few sliced, toasted almonds, and serve immediately.