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The great pavlova debate

Ask any Aussie or Kiwi about the origins of the pavlova and you’re bound to strike a nerve. The humble summer dessert is a Christmas staple in this small corner of the world, yet its origins are shrouded in mystery. Australians and New Zealanders will both lay claim to the dessert. So, which of the two countries did the pavlova actually come from? Neither!

The pavlova was named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. The superstar prima ballerina was adored all over the world, and toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. According to Kiwis, a chef at a hotel in Wellington was so inspired by Pavlova that he created the dessert in her honour. The meringue’s light and airy texture was apparently reminiscent of Pavlova’s ‘light as a feather’ dancing. The Aussies spin a similar story, based in Perth. So, who’s right? 

Anna Pavlova

In 2015, researchers Dr Andrew Paul Wood (a Kiwi) and Annabelle Utrecht (an Aussie) claimed to have settled the debate after two years of research. According to their studies, the pavlova didn’t belong to the Aussies or the Kiwis. Instead, the pavlova’s roots are in Germany.

After digging through thousands of old recipes, the research duo found more than 150 recipes for meringue-based cakes that had all been published prior to Pavlova’s visit in 1926. The earliest records they could find of a pavlova-like recipe were from the Austrian House of Habsburg dynasty in the 18th century. The recipe was called the Spanische Windtorte (translated to ‘Spanish wind cake’), and consisted of layers of meringue, cream and fruit. Wood and Utrecht also found similar recipes brought over to the United States from German immigrants in the 1800s. With the invention of the rotary egg beater in 1884, German-inspired meringue recipes became increasingly popular among American housewives well into the 20th century. 

According to Wood and Utrecht, the pavlova recipe made its way down under on the back of a corn starch box. The researchers also found a recipe called Strawberries Pavlova from 1911, 15 years before Anna Pavlova toured Australia and New Zealand.

So, while the pavlova is a German invention, rather than an Australian or a New Zealand one, Wood and Utrecht say that no one has embraced the dessert quite like the Aussies and Kiwis, who have guarded and preserved the historical recipe.

All images courtesy of iStock

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