An Australian Christmas staple, the origin of the pavlova has been a source of frequent, albeit minor, conflict between Australia and New Zealand for decades.
Named after a Russian ballerina, pavlova is made with egg whites, sugar, white vinegar and cornstarch. Shaped like a cake, the pavlova has a chewy centre with a meringue-like outer shell and is not complete until it is slathered with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit.
Light and fluffy, the “pav” stands in delicious contrast to traditional Yuletide desserts like Christmas pudding and mince pies. While these dense, rich treats are popular in Australia, they are not the most appealing thing to eat on a hot summer’s day.
Like The Bible, the pavlova has two different creation stories:
- It was invented by an unknown chef in Wellington, New Zealand, to commemorate Anna Pavlova’s 1926 antipodean tour.
- It was first created in 1935 by chef Bert Sachse at Perth’s Esplanade Hotel, the manager of which commented that the dish was “lighter than Pavlova”.
Food historians have been unable to state which is the truth, so debate over the birthplace of the pavlova remains.
Of more interest to me though, is why anyone would memorialise a ballerina in sugar and egg white in the first place?
Well, it turns out that, in addition to being a prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova brought ballet to the masses. In the early 20th Century, before air travel was a thing, she toured the world, performing and speaking passionately about the arts and the importance of government funded arts programs. She was also ridiculously glamourous and (for better or worse) is largely responsible for the way many of us imagine ballerinas “should” be: dark haired, pale skinned and rail thin.
Odd then, that she would have a dessert, or any food, named after her at all. But she does. And lots of it. When researching the origins of the pavlova, food historians Dr Andrew Paul Wood and Annabelle Utrecht uncovered hundreds of dishes from all over the world named after the tiny dancer.
But of all those dishes, only one has endured…
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