Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

pavlova, a large meringue cake smothered with thick whipped cream and decorated with fresh fruits such as strawberries, kiwi, or passion fruit, exemplifies the practice of naming fashionable foods after celebrities. Meringue cakes were already circulating in North America (e.g., Foam Torte and Kiss Cake) and were known in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand when the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova first toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. Press reports emphasized the lightness of her dancing and the beauty of her costumes, and three food items reflecting these qualities were named “pavlova.” First was a multicolored, layered jelly (appearing in the Davis Gelatine Company’s recipe book in Australia in 1926 and in New Zealand in 1927). Next came small, crisp, coffee- and walnut-flavored meringues, devised by Rose Rutherford in Dunedin, New Zealand, around 1928. The third appeared in 1929, when “Festival,” a contributor to a New Zealand rural magazine, named her meringue cake recipe Pavlova Cake. The ballerina’s popularity helped cement the new name, and by 1935 several different pavlova recipes were known. No single foundation recipe existed from which all later versions derived. A similar process of renaming existing recipes occurred in Australia, though possibly later, since no printed recipe for pavlova has been found there that predates 1937.