Aussie-Kiwi International Dessert Fight Heats Up

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Berries and cream are a serious business. None know this better than Australians and New Zealanders, who both lay claim to the pavlova, a dessert of meringue, fruit, and cream named for the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. As the BBC helpfully points out, she "visited both countries in the 1920s." But who invented it? The Oxford English Dictionary recently stepped into the battle. The "first recorded pavlova," says the OED in its relaunched online edition, came in 1927 in New Zealand. "The OED is the only English dictionary that aims to trace the first known use of every sense of every word in the English language," notes the BBC, which is why it's getting mixed up in this feud. Apparently this 1927 recipe "was in a book called Davis Dainty Dishes, published by the Davis Gelatine company, and it was a multi-coloured jelly dish."

Sit back, folks, and watch two countries and a dictionary fight over a meringue:

  • 'Some Might Be Tempted to Ask: Does It Matter?'  Bless the BBC for wry understatement. The official response they report from the OED:

"Linguistically it probably isn't that important," the OED's Fiona Macpherson said about the pavlova ruling. "We have to be neutral about this kind of thing, we're just interested in where we can get the evidence and what it actually means." ... In fact, although the OED credits the first written record of the recipe to New Zealand, it lists the origin, rather ambiguously, as "Austral. and N.Z."

  • 'Pavlova (n). Invented in New Zealand'  What a headline. That's from the New Zealand Herald, where Amelia Wade reports "the battle with Australia ... all but over." She is also pleased to note that, in the recently relaunched online OED of 600,000 words, "1386 ... have a lingual link to New Zealand."
  • You Cannot Win This War With a Jelly, My Friend  The Sydney Morning Herald's reports the colorful response of Margaret Fulton, who appears to be something akin to the Julia Child of Australia: '''They can make all the claims they like, and the Oxford dictionary can go on like great academic know-it-alls, but I think most Australians would agree with me that the true pavlova belongs to Australia,' the 86-year-old said." Fulton says the key to pavlova is passionfruit, which is present in the Australian version but not in the New Zealand one. In addition, the Australian pavlova actually resembles the tutu it is supposed to resemble, while the New Zealanders employ a "round tin." Meanwhile, one Dr. Helen Leach calls the 1927 recipe the OED refers to an "imposter." The Herald's Danielle Miletic reports her explanation:

''Although it was called a pavlova it was not what we would know as a pavlova today,'' she said. ''It was a multilayered coloured jelly and there is some suggestion it may even have come from the firm's Sydney branch.''

Even so, New Zealand's claim still stacks up, she said.

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