It ain’t over until the fat lady sings, or so the less than pleasant saying goes. If that is truly the case, this post is bound to be over before it even begins, let's hope that isn't the case!
This time around, we are looking at the Mitchells. I'm not sure if we can call the family a clan in the strictest sense but they have a tartan and that is good enough for me. That is not to say that I’m not interested in the stories around this notable family name. The names is linked to a few septs but most commonly with the Clan Innes. And just to confuse a new boy like me the Mitchell tartan is shared by Hunter, Galbraith and Russell. Lucky it is a nice one!
First, let me get the meaning of the name out of the way, not that it isn't interesting but there is a pudding looming on the horizon and I'm far more interested in that! The name Mitchell is thought to derive from the French name Michel which comes from the Hebrew name Michael. In Hebrew the name Michael means something akin to "the one who is like god" – not too shabby for anyone named Mitchell, eh? The use of the name Michel in Scotland in turn gave derivatives such as Michelson and MacMichel and then eventually Mitchell- the ch here was traditionally pronounced as in loch so the best guess is that the T in the name came along to clarify this.
Unfortunately I can’t really give you much more of an account of the history of the name Mitchell than that, so I will move on to something a bit more manageable. As I have mentioned, probably so often that my regular readers are sick of hearing about it, I grew up in Australia. In my antipodean childhood, one of my very closest friends was a lad called Andy whose mother’s maiden name was Mitchell. What makes this a little more than the nostalgic ramblings of a caffeine fuelled blogger trying desperately to find a hook for this article is that she claimed to be directly related to Dame Nellie Melba.
Dame Nellie Melba
Dame Nellie Melba was born as Helen Porter Mitchell in 1861 in Melbourne, Australia. Her father was born in Scotland but emigrated as a young man and gained fame as a builder, going on to build the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne – the first UNESCO heritage site in Australia. Young Nellie was of a musical disposition and began playing the organ and singing in her church choir as a teenager. After entering into what seems to have been a disastrous marriage in Queensland, Nellie went first to Melbourne (from where she took the name Melba) then to London in order to pursue her singing career. It didn’t go exactly to plan to begin with, in fact Nellie was so poorly received that she fled to Paris. Thankfully here she found more success and rose to fame very quickly indeed.
In the years that followed, Melba performed all throughout Europe as well as in New York and developed a huge and devoted following - always a show-woman, Nellie was quick to capitalise on her adoration and possibly embellish stories of her fan's devotion in order to heighten her fame; there is a story about fans of hers breaking up a pencil she had used and then sharing out the pieces to vicariously touch the hand of genius. Among her admirers Melba could count not only the Duke of Orleans with whom she had a whirlwind romance but also Auguste Escoffier – the most famous chef of his day – who created several dishes in Nellie’s honour; notably Melba Toast and Peach Melba.
During the First World War, Melba worked tirelessly to raise funds to support the troops – raising somewhere in the region of £100,000 or about £3.6million in today’s money. In recognition of her efforts during the war, Melba was made Dame Commander of the British Empire henceforth being known as Dame Nellie Melba.
The fame that Dame Nellie gained for her singing abilities, lavish lifestyle and celebrity affairs was eventually to be eclipsed by her never-ending series of farewell tours. Much like the Eagles today, Nellie just couldn’t seem to pack her trunk and say goodbye to the circus. As a result of her excessive goodbye tours, she is better remembered in Australia these days by the phrase “more farewells than Nellie Melba”.
If you are hosting a dinner party, and want your guests to leave on a high note, why not try out Auguste Escoffier’s famous Peach Melba. It is a beautifully simply desert to knock together and so is great for any occasion. The dish was first created by Escoffier for a banquet in Nellie's honour and was served atop a giant swan made of ice so any serious home cook will have to get their chisels out for this one!
If you can't be bothered with the faff of ice sculpting, here is a quicker recipe.
- Peaches (allow one peach per person)
- 400ml water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 250g raspberries
- Vanilla ice cream.
- Make a syrup from the water, sugar and vanilla pod (best to scrape the seeds out first then add them and the pod to the liquid).
- Poach the peaches in the syrup until the peaches are soft but not too sloppy and the skins pull away easily - set them aside to cool off then halve and de-stone them.
- Put the raspberries in a food processor with a few splashes of the poaching liquor, blitz and then sieve to remove the seeds.
- To serve, place a good scoop of vanilla ice cream in a bowl with two peach halves and a generous serving of raspberry sauce.
There you go, a multi-sensory Mitchell experience if ever there was one, just whip up some Peach Melba, whack some Dame Nellie on the record deck and drape yourself in fine tartan, I can't think of a better way of embracing your heritage - photos of you doing just this may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.