From Russia with Love

The dancing meringue

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Furious controversy has always surrounded the origin of the pavlova—the oversized meringue with the gooey centre, crowned with kiwifruit, strawberries and criminal quantities of cream.

It was created by a Wellington chef in honour of ballerina Anna Pavlova, who visited the capital as part of her 1926 tour. Helen Leach, professor of anthropology at Otago University, triumphantly points out that the earliest recipe was in the New Zealand Dairy Exporter Annual in 1929, six years before Australian chef Bert Sachse developed it at Perth’s Hotel Esplanade.

But despite the hot debate, this most delicious of national icons was just one of many innovations from an exuberant baking tradition in New Zealand.

Auckland’s medical officer of health, Dr A.W.S. Thompson, complained in 1950 that “New Zealand housewives expend far too much energy and thought on afternoon teas”.

But the fad wasn’t to last long. With subsequent eras of feminism and working mothers too busy to bake, the tradition dwindled. Last year, however, six of the 10 bestselling non-fiction books in New Zealand were cookbooks, representing something of a revival in DIY cuisine. Alison Holst, New Zealand baking queen and cookbook writer, says that the recession was partly responsible. “People were after economical recipes which in the 50s would have been common knowledge,” she says. Now, after a particularly good summer for market produce, the Kiwi baking revival seems set to continue.

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