What do you mean its an Aussie Christmas treat?
Come on, we all know it originated from New Zealand.
Or did it?
Our next door neighbour, Australia and us [New Zealanders] have had, shall we say, a tendency to take “the Mikey” out of each other since little Adam was conceived. Our not so serious ‘debates’ are quite similar to a sibling relationship. We do tend to not agree on essential topics such as sports, the nationality of Russell Crowe [who?] and our most significant controversy would have to be food!
The topic of rivalry brings me to discuss the dispute over the origins of the Pavlova. You know that airy, melt in your mouth, Christmas delight. Made of a meringue shell that is topped with cream and fresh fruit.
This palaver has been the countries longest-running dispute.
Let’s delve into the true origins of this much loved Christmas dessert.
The one aspect of this dispute is that both countries can agree on is the origin of this favoured desserts name.
Born in 1885, Anna Pavlova became an iconic Russiam ballerina who was much admired across the world. During her time in fame, many chefs around the globe named their dishes after her from the “Pavlova Ice Cream” in America to the ‘frogs’ legs à la Pavlova’ in France. With the first found recipe of a glacé type of dessert known as ‘strawberries Pavlova’ found in Auckland, in 1911.
Then in 1926 came the arrival of the desserts namesake, Anna, to Australia and New Zealand shores. This visit resulted in both claiming different stories about creating this dish that is named after her.
The New Zealand Story
During her visit, a chef at a Wellington Hotel was said to be inspired by her ballerina dress and the movement. The resulting ‘billowy dessert’ was created in her honour. There are many variations of what we class as a pavlova, this particular one included a marshmallowy inside with cream and slices of Chinese Gooseberry [fruit] later in 1959 it was named kiwifruit, which to this day is still a popular choice to place on top.
However, the first mention of the Pavlova appeared in a New Zealand cookbook in 1929, this version had nothing to do with meringues. Instead, it was a recipe featuring several layers of jelly.
From then to now recipes of the iconic meringue Pavlova quickly followed this recipe. Despite appearing later, many Kiwis believe any record of this recipe is proof enough that we created the Pavlova.
For many a Kiwi, it still holds its own as a favourite during the festive season and beyond.
Photo credit: NZ History Archives
As well as inspiring chefs, Anna Pavlova posed with sheep with much enthusiasm and backed by a 50-strong dance troupe and a 22-member orchestra, she enthralled audiences in Auckland, Whanganui, Hastings, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru and Dunedin, performing an exhausting 38 shows in 39 days.
The Australian Story
While us kiwis have our own recipe, our counterparts across the ditch, the Pavlova has been named as quintessentially Australian, featuring a crunchier meringue with the classic topping of cream and passionfruit.
During 1926, this debatable version has been said to have been invented at a Perth Hotel. It was declared by a diner to be ‘as light as a Pavlova’. As you can guess, from then on, that particular dessert was referred to as a Pavlova.
What’s the true origin of the Pavlova?
For two years Dr Andrew Paul Wood [NZ] and Annabelle Utrecht [AUS] researched the true origin of the Pavlova. During this collaboration, they searched through thousands of newspapers and perhaps a few thousand cookbooks.
Before acknowledging that there is indeed over 150 recipes for meringue-based cakes that all look similar to the Pavlova we know today. All were published well before Anna arrived in New Zealand and Australia in 1926.
The first Pavlova-like recipe found in their investigation was a meringue, cream and fruit torte named Spanische Windtorte, eaten by Austrian Habsburgs in the 18th century. Similarly to this, they found torte recipes from Germany that were brought to the US by German immigrants, Schaum torte translating to foam cake and Baiser torte which is more commonly known today as Kiss Cake.
By the late 1800s, the invention of the hand-cranked egg beater, had many American housewives creating meringue on a regular basis. With the ease of creating this recipe, it became highly popular due to the ease of creation. With roots now in both Germany and America, it is believed that the Pavlova recipe travelled to Australia and New Zealand on the back of exported American manufacturer William Duryeas’ Maizena (cornstarch boxes).
It’s here to stay
Despite neither us nor the Australians actually creating the Pavlova credits must go to Germany’s for their torte that began to evolve in America, before heading down to both here in New Zealand and over to Australia. Some may say that we are lucky to have become the guardians of this well-loved dessert.
Unlike many other dishes named after the famous ballerina called Anna, which did not make it past the 1920s, the Kiwi Pavlova and Aussie Pavlova desserts continue to live on almost 100 years later.
If nothing else, we who live at the bottom of the world always have and continue to offer the world unique approaches to all we do and especially to the Pavlova. It will forever be embedded in our cultures and will never be removed from their national identities.
On that note, I had better go and practice my pavlova skills for the big day. Wanting to do the same, check out the below recipes for some inspiration.
Have a Happy and Safe Festive Season.
Squire and I xx