It’s pretty hard to piss off a Kiwi. Other than belittling rugby or asking them if they’ve ever visited Middle Earth, they’re a pretty easy going bunch of people.
Unless of course, you make the mistake of vocalising that the pavlova was invented in Australia.
In 2010, the Oxford English Dictionary claimed to have settled the long running argument between the two antipodean countries as to who invented this desert. But the myth remains. Most people outside of Australia and New Zealand give the credit to Australia.
Let’s get one thing clear, shall we?
The modern pavlova was invented in New Zealand. There is no dispute between the countries that this version of the delectable meringue, cream and berries desert was named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova but what people seem to have forgotten is that Ms Pavlova visited both countries in the 1920s.
The first recorded pavlova recipe appeared in New Zealand in 1927 in the cookbook ‘Davis Dainty Dishes.’ But instead of the meringue version, this one was a complicated four-layer jelly. Australia also published this recipe at around the same time.
Next came small coffee and walnut-flavoured meringues which appeared in Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island in 1928 and became popular throughout the country.
Then in 1929, a recipe for a large meringue cake again named after the ballerina appeared in a regional publication of the Dairy Farmer’s Annual. This pavlova was a sandwich-style creation with meringue on the top and the bottom and with cream and fruit in the middle.
So what is the Australian’s pavlova origin story? Well they believe that the pavlova was invented by Bert Sachse, a chef at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, Western Australia, in 1935.
Hmmmm. You can see the problem with the Australian’s timeline.
But I’m going to break out the tin opener here and prise open a can of worms because in actual fact, meringue cakes are over 200 years old.
Believe it or not, the great, great grandfather of the large meringue cake, as we would understand the pavlova, is the Spanische Windtorte (souffle cake), which was an Austrian dessert consisting of a meringue shell or layers, filled with whipped cream and fruit. It was the first of its kind, and known to be baked in Habsburg kitchens during the late 1700s.
In the 18th Century, large meringue constructions incorporating cream and fruit elements could be found in aristocratic kitchens across German-speaking countries. Eventually, women in middle-class European kitchens began creating meringue cakes topped with whipped cream, nuts and fruit or fruit preserves. They called them schaum torte which means ‘foam cake’ in German. And it’s this schaum torte recipe that ended up in South Australia in the lead-up to World War Two, when there was a large influx of German immigrants. Which is probably where Mr Sachse got his idea from in 1935.
It is unclear how the Kiwis got there first but by around 1932 to 1933, the pavlovas that came out of New Zealand were single-level cakes topped with fruit and cream.
So commiserations Australia. Granted, you came up with a cracking recipe for a pavlova in 1935 but you weren’t the first country to name your meringue and cream desert after a ballerina.
That honorific goes to New Zealand.