Monday, 12 November 2018

The Question of the Pav

There has been a surprising amount of jostling for position to be the originator of the pavlova, and a number of other Antipodean things. Aussie and Kiwis argue about such things, which, when you stop to think about it, really doesn't matter that much. I guess this is our nationalism coming to the fore. 

However, in considering the originator of the pavlova, in New Zealand it is commonly accepted that someone named the dessert after the great ballerina, Anna Pavlova, during - or after - the first of her two tours to the Antipodes in 1926. I have always heard it was 'during', but when we consider this was three generations ago and the amount of revisionism that can occur in a fortnight, let alone 90 years, we need to be open to 'after' as well.

In 1935, a Perth-based chef by the name of Herbert Sachse created a meringue cake and named it Pavlova (Symons, 2010). However, Leach (2010) says that that there are “eight New Zealand [pavlova] recipes predating Sachse’s pavlova” (p. 26), though the NZ recipes did not appear to use both vinegar and corn flour as Sachse’s did. As a result, the researchers seem to agree that it is likely that “the Pavlova is a collaborative confection” (Symons, 2010, p. 197) where successive cooks have built on - socially constructed - the expertise of those around them informally. However, that doesn't quite answer the question of whether the Kiwis or the Aussies got there first.

But wait, there's more. A recipe similar to the modern pavlova turns up in the USA in 1870. The “United States also enjoyed many Pavlova look-alikes […] often named ‘Schaum Torte’ (Foam Cake), which a recent Joy of cooking traces to the 1870s in Wisconsin” (Symons, 2010, p. 201). Although not created or named in honour of the great Anna Pavlova, the dessert itself apparently existed before the name we Antipodeans claim.

What is even more interesting is that Tracey Tufnail wrote in the Vancouver Sun (15 February 2015), citing a book by Keith Money (1982), saying that “during the New Zealand leg of the tour a chef at a hotel in the country's capital city of Wellington invented a dessert inspired by Pavlova's tutu, which was decorated with green silk roses. His metaphorical representation with its light, soft meringue and cream filling was garnished with emerald green slices of kiwifruit to represent the roses”. I am not entirely convinced about this story, as I am unsure that Chinese gooseberries would have been used for such a famous dessert in June or July of 1926 (Melita, 2009), but it is possible this was so. What I am surprised at is that Leach (2010) does not refer to Money (1982) as a source, although Symons (2010) does.

I cannot vouch for the validity of Keith Money’s story, nor have I yet sighted the book to which Ms Tufnail refers, but Keith Money appears to be a noted biographer in the ballet world from the 1960s onwards, with books published on Margot Fonteyn, the UK's Royal Ballet, Rudolf Nureyev, and skater, John Curry. Keith Money is, however, a New Zealander, so may well be too partisan to provide an entirely unbiased opinion on the origins of the pav.



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