Friday, 17 May 2019

A tiny advance on the Pav

The origins of the Pav continue to be murky (read here and here), but I have a tiny update.

For those who have not read about this before, the origins of the pavlova are somewhat contested between New Zealand and Australia: both of whom claim invention. The originator of the pavlova is not Herbert Sachse in Perth in 1935, as a great deal of documentary evidence has been found which is earlier than that.

The earliest currently known example of a pavlova recipe is in 1926, in the 5th Australian edition of the Davis Gelatine Company's Davis Dainty Dishes recipe book (Leach, 2009), a layered, gelatine dessert. I contacted Emerita Professor Helen Leach at the University of Otago about the possible publication date of the Davis Dainty Dishes recipe book. She advised that Davis Gelatine didn’t include a month of publication in their recipe books.

So the first Pavolva - at present - is a gelatine dessert; not a whipped cream, fruit and meringue confection (Leach, 2009).

However, Professor Leach gave me some additional information (which ties in strongly with the Tracey Tufnail piece in the Vancouver Sun, 15 February 2015). She told me that "The story about the Wellington chef was told to Harry Orsman when he was compiling his Dictionary of New Zealand English. His informant had been a member of the Wellington Ballet Co. in 1926 and attended some of the receptions. These were written up in great detail, e.g. in a Dunedin newspaper on 22 June 1926. But though the flowers decorating the reception rooms were described in detail, there was no mention of any of the food. I know that it wasn’t the done thing to describe food, but if a chef made a presentation of a cake he had devised you might expect it to be mentioned. I used Papers Past very intensively and found no written evidence at all that this presentation took place. What makes it even more problematic is the fact that there are similar hand-me-down stories about a chef in Sydney and another in Melbourne who independently named meringue cakes after her in 1926." (Leach, 9 January 2019). 

She went on to tell me that although she has conducted an extensive search of publications and news media, she was unable to find anything relating to a dessert being named in honour of the dancer on the New Zealand leg of the tour. She also felt that this was a fairly significant event, which, given the excitement around Anna Pavlova, would have made its way into the public record (Leach, 9 January 2019).

Keith Money's biography said in his Anna Pavlova biography that there was “…the creation by a hotel chef of a meringue confection named in her honor…” (Money, 1982, p. 352) on the South Island leg of the tour. While it is possible that Harry Orsman was the source of Keith Money's story, that told by Tracey Tufnail and that told by Keith Money are fairly different. I am hoping that there may yet be evidence in - perhaps - a 1926 Christchurch or Timaru newspaper or newsletter which may shed more light.

Watch this space.


  • Leach, H. M. (9 January 2019). A quick question on the Pavlova. [Personal Correspondence]
  • Leach, H. M. (2009). The Pavlova Story: A slice of New Zealand's culinary history (second printing). Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press. (images from pp. 44-45)
  • Money. K. (1982). Anna Pavlova: Her Life and Art. New York, USA: A. Knopf & Sons
  • Tufnail, T. (21 February 2015). Bitter rivalry and a sweet ending; Pavlova is the quintessential New Zealand dessert - just don't tell Aussies. The Vancouver Sun.

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