By Karishma Shah
Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine
- The “Torte aux Meringues” was a favourite dessert in Europe and USA long before Anna Pavlova visited Australia and New Zealand on her world tour in 1929.
- There are different variations of the “Schaum Torte” or Foam Cake in different parts of the world.
- There is no proof of the origin, neither in Australia or New Zealand.
- The Pavlova is so popular and much loved in Australia, so we declare as ours, end of argument!
Anyone who has a sweet tooth like mine, is going to be no stranger to the blessing that is the Pavlova; also known as white airy clouds, which are crunchy on the outside and filled with chewy goodness on the inside, coupled with whipped cream, fresh fruit and the works; making it one of the most popular desserts worldwide. The Pavlova, along with being one of the most loved, it is also one of the most controversial desserts, having gone through one of the most drastic evolutions from what it was previously, to what it is now. I wanted to delve into the delicious abyss that is the Pavlova, but the only thing stopping me were the limited resources. While doing my research, I chanced upon the work of Annabelle Utrecht – who in her own words, is a businesswoman turned Pavlova sleuth. She, along with fellow researcher Dr. Andrew Paul Wood, have gone to great lengths to unravel the mystery behind these magnificent peaks of meringue and she very generously agreed to let me interview her, helping me piece this puzzle together.
Going by the written proof they have come across, it is obvious that there is no fixed geographical trail of the very first recipe of the Pavlova. What we know, is whatever has been passed down through oral food history, anecdotes and otherwise sparse tangible evidence, which is spread throughout the corners of the world. While the Pavlova in written history emerged as early as the year of 1929, in a New Zealand based publication; further research by the duo has made it obvious that given its dynamic nature, the Pavlova wasn’t always the elaborate, meringue based dessert we so dearly love.
As it has been well documented, this dessert was named after the first ballet artist to have a world tour and one of the most important members of the Russian Imperial Ballet – Anna Pavlova. As the story goes, a Wellington based chef is said to have named the dessert after her, during her tour of New Zealand and Australia in the year 1929. Now with the new extensive and in-depth information available, it is safe to say that the Pavlova existed long before it was named after Anna, simply in various other forms and names. A source cites the Pavlova as being a far – flung cousin of a German Torte, from where it was said to originate at least a century before it emerged in recipes the Southern Hemisphere. It was well known that there were three popular variations of the Pavlova – A four layered jelly, an almond-coffee- meringue petit called the “Pavlova cake” and finally, the Pavlova mentioned in the NZ based “New Zealand Dairy Exporter Annual”, which is probably the most widely accepted and known version of it yet.
Annabelle spoke of the surprise at discovering almost two dozen Anna Pavlova themed foods and desserts that never ended up receiving academic citing, and the plethora of Pavlova named foods they found in the cookbooks of the Northern Hemisphere also aptly stating that it wasn’t a question of who invented the dessert, but who renamed and rebranded it. With its roots that spread far and wide throughout the United States of America, Europe and The United Kingdom; it was almost impossible to zero down upon.Seeing as following its geographical travel may help the Pavlova novice within me to actually understand its history, I decided to ask Annabelle to explain to me more of its journey.
Petite four sized meringues could be seen in as early as the 18th century, with fruits and whipped cream in European cookbooks; increasing in portion sizes through the early 19th century, shown in the records books of the Astro – Hungarian empire. These seem to be the earliest bibliographic manifestations of this dessert. Largely being consumed by the patrician population, the Pavlova revealed itself in its various forms like the Torte aux Meringues, The Spanische Windtorte and The Schaum Torte. With the winds of migration flowing towards the United States, the recipes arrived with the immigrants in their trunks and suitcases and became a beloved part of American food culture; which is why, Iowa and Wisconsin are still known to relish their Schaum Torte or Foam Cake.
It is interesting to see how the 20th century homemakers accepted the trend of the Schaum torte with open arms. But funnily enough, the Pavlova has stuck around longer than any other dessert that had been a “phase”. Much like England, the evidence that Annabelle and Dr. Wood collected show that even Australia and New Zealand had their own large meringue cakes existing long before we thought they did. Almost mirroring the Northern Hemisphere in real time, the growth of cross – continent journals, periodicals, recipe books; the increase of travel – both through air and sea allowed the recipes and food fashion to spread worldwide.
And lastly, to sum it up, what we know of as the bone of contention between the ever so patriotic Kiwis and Aussies, doesn’t seem to be theirs at all to begin with. So with the warring at rest, we can be sure that we will continue to enjoy summery weekends with our own personalised versions of the Pavlova, may it be anywhere in the world.