Pavlova wars

This week we salute the Pavlova, a delectable dessert, because the first documented recipe for it was published 79 years ago this month. Our Australian guest blogger, Andrea Cooper, writes about the battle between Australian and New Zealand to claim credit for it.

Australia and New Zealand are neighbor countries and allies. Yet their own rivalry, across the ditch (the Tasman Sea), is legendary and taken seriously by many. Examples of this friendly but deep rivalry abound, especially in sport.  A couple of years ago when New Zealand lost their America’s Cup (yachting) challenge to the US, New Zealand’s loss was played up in the Australian media as a local victory, because key positions in the U.S. team were held by Aussies. There are also the annual rugby matches of the Australian Wallabies vs the New Zealand All Blacks, cricket, netball and other sports. Additionally, many entertainers acclaimed international as Australians, including Russell Crowe and Keith Urban, are in fact New Zealand-born.

A down-under food war

Perhaps the most serious rivalry comes from a different field altogether. It is a food war over who invented the Pavlova dessert.

No one contests that it is named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited both countries in 1926 and Australia again in 1929. This confection, consisting of a meringue shell topped with whipped cream and fruit, can certainly be viewed as a reflection of a dancer’s fluffy white tutu. The dispute arose in the 1950s with the wide publication, in Australia, of Chef Herbert Sachse’s recipe for “Traditional Pavlova.” Sachse claimed to have invented this dish in 1935 whilst working at The Esplanade Hotel in Perth, naming it after Anna Pavlova, who had stayed at the hotel in 1929. New Zealanders were soon up in arms, claiming the dish as their own and accusing Australia of plagiarism.

The dispute has raged across the decades and continued even after Anna Pavlova’s own biographer stated that the dish was created by a chef at the Wellington hotel where she stayed in 1926. Today many Australians still refuse to acknowledge the Pavlova as a New Zealand creation, even after the 2008 publication of Helen Leach’s well documented book The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand’s Culinary History. 

Leach is a culinary anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Her library of cookbooks includes 667 Pavlova recipes from more than 300 sources. Leach identifies a recipe for “Meringue with Fruit Filling” in a 1926 book, Home Cookery for NZ. In 1927, the name Pavlova first appears for a trifle-like dessert (not a fruit-filled meringue) released by the Davis Gelatine company in their Davis Dainty Dishes (sixth edition). Other recipes for meringues with fruit were printed in various New Zealand publications, including the Women’s Mirror magazine in April 1935. This is the recipe that Herbert Sachse most likely copied and “improved,” then first served as “The Pavlova” on October 3,1935.

The OED steps into the fray

A few years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary awarded the honor to New Zealand, saying the Davis Dainty Dishes publication was the first published Pavlova recipe–even though it was a different confection. Leach said she identified at least 21 Pavlova recipes in New Zealand cookbooks before 1940, the date of the first Australian publication.

Of course this doesn’t satisfy some Aussies.

“They can make all the claims they like, and the Oxford dictionary can go on like great academic know-it-alls, but I think Australians would agree with me that the true Pavlova belongs to Australia,” huffed Margaret Fulton, a 90-year-old Australian food guru, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald after the OED announcement. Personally, in the end I don’t care who first created the Pavlova. Making a good one from scratch is a challenge, but well worth the effort and calories.

Now if Australia and New Zealand could only agree on who first invented the lamington (cubes of sponge cake coated with chocolate icing and coconut) and the ANZAC biscuit (an oatmeal and coconut cookie) – but those are topics for another time!

This Pavlova recipe comes from I’ve adjusted the measurements and terms for U.S. norms. aIf you want to watch a YouTube demo, you can take your pick of many videos

Eiren Zoyren, a favorite family recipe from Poland (by way of Australia)

Andrea Cooper, the author of today’s column, lives in Melbourne, Australia. We met more than 15 years ago on a listserv for public relations professionals. I can’t remember how long ago it was, but my children were still at home and her son, now in his 20s, was not yet a teenager. We discovered that we had much in common, including traditional Jewish practice, and have been in touch via email and Facebook since. We frequently chat about the similarities and differences in Jewish customs between the U.S. and Australia, not the least of which is their weird way of spelling many of the Yiddish terms that have made their way into English. Andrea currently runs a consulting firm called ComAbility, to help companies and organizations create communications that are accessible to people with disabilities. I’ve kept Andrea’s original British spellings for this week’s column, which reminds us how important it is to get recipes for beloved dishes from our elders. Here’s Andrea …

Most of us remember a special dish our mothers or grandmothers cooked. The flavour lingers in our memories, bringing back family gatherings and meals. When I was growing up, one of the treats Mum might make for Shabbat was an entrée dish called Eiren Zoyren. She often made it for visitors, who would say they’d never had anything like it before.

Eiren Zoyren is served cold. It is essentially eggs poached in a sauce. Over the years, Mum cooked it less often and then not at all. People were cutting back on the number of eggs they ate, fearing that too many might add to their cholesterol levels. The taste has stayed with me all my life. Whenever I would see a new Jewish cookbook, I’d unsuccessfully flip through trying to find the recipe.

Don’t procrastinate—get those recipes!

About a decade ago, when mum was getting near the end with her terminal cancer, it was one of two recipes (the other was her chicken soup) that I requested she show me how to make. We both procrastinated and finally she wasn’t well enough to make it with me. So we talked about how it was made, but not the exact quantities.

After she passed away, I presumed I’d find the recipe online. No luck! Over the years I’ve searched. The nearest is a German recipe that has some similarities, but is clearly different. My mother’s  family comes from Lublin in Poland, so the original source of this recipe is likely to be amongst the Jewish community of that region. (My grandmother  Pearl Redelman’s maiden name was Kelner. I’ve traced her Kelner line back to 1756 in Lublin. In the 1780’s census, a third of Lublin’s population at about 1,400 were Jews.)

My sister and I both were determined not to lose what we began to realise was a unique family specialty. None of my cousins had the recipe written down.

Aunty Dora to the rescue

A few years ago my sister visited my mum’s older sister in Adelaide. In her late 80s, she hadn’t made Eiren Zoyren for many years. Together my aunt and my sister made a batch and wrote down the recipe.

Yesterday, I found my sister’s handwritten copy of this recipe.

Today, I have made it, though with a few adjustments to meet my own taste memories.

In two days’ time, I will proudly serve my Shabbat guests this unique entrée.

Now I am writing this recipe down to share, so it may never again be lost. I present it in memory of my mother, Bell Cooper, and her mother Perl Redelman (nee Kelner), with special thanks to my Aunty Dora Chester and my sister Abigail.