Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pavlova Wars

A pavlova (source:  Wikimedia Commons)
On a routine troll through Google Plus, I found a little article about an issue in food history--who invented the pavlova?

According to Wikipedia, a pavlova, which is named after the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova, "is made by beating egg whites (and sometimes salt) to a very stiff consistency before folding in caster sugar, white vinegar, cornflour, and sometimes vanilla essence, and slow-baking the mixture, similarly to meringue."  The result, which Wikipedia describes as having a "crisp and crunchy outer shell, and a soft, moist marshmallow-like centre," is often garnished with soft fruits such as kiwi fruit and strawberries, as in the picture to the right from Wikimedia Commons.

One wouldn't think that such a light and airy sweet would touch off a flame war, but apparently it did.  According to this article from Stuff.co.nz, controversy has raged for years about whether pavlova was invented in New Zealand or Australia.  Now, the renowned Oxford English Dictionary has finally weighed in on the matter, stating in their latest online edition that pavlova was invented in New Zealand in 1927.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Stuff.co.nz article notes that some New Zealanders believe that this report is slightly off and that the true pavlova was invented in 1929, not 1927, and Australians still claim the prize, based upon a recipe created by a chef at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth in 1935. 

This dispute--over whether a dessert was invented in one country or another, in the 1920s or the 1930s--may be minor in the larger scheme of things.  It doesn't have the impact of, for example, what homo sapiens ate during the Stone Age, when particular plants were first cultivated, or who first domesticated and ate chickens.  But it does illustrate how difficult food innovations are to pin down, even in modern times, in nations with high literacy rates.  Whatever its effect on waistlines and headlines, the pavlova reminds us not to be too certain that we know, or can know, exactly when a recipe was first made.

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