Mrs McRae


Pavlova - Mrs McRae

New Zealand and Australia share a friendly rivalry over many things; rugby, cricket, CER, GST . . . but there’s one major thing that we compete over that is no joke. This is deadly serious. Come the year 2101, when the War of the Tasman is over and the nuclear cloud over Australasia has dissipated, our great grandchildren will be wandering around the ashes of New Zealand and Australia thinking, ‘All this over a cream-covered meringue cake?’ Because if there’s one thing that would make us go to war with our trans-Tasman cousins, it’s over the right to say, ‘We invented the pavlova.’ With the desire to finally put this thorny issue to bed and avoid any unnecessary bloodshed, we examine the evidence, impartially and without bias, and unequivocally state that it was a Kiwi who invented the pav.

This much is clear and undisputed – in 1926 a Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova, visited Australia and New Zealand. She danced with such grace and lightness as to inspire the inhabitants of both countries, even the cultureless Aussies (sorry, got a little less than impartial there for a moment, won’t happen again).

Another undisputed fact: There exists a cake made of meringue with a topping of cream and fruit (most properly kiwifruit, but we concede that passionfruit also works) that is also light and graceful. Said cake is popularly known as the ‘pavlova’.

Now here’s the thing – a) who invented the cake? b) who named it ‘pavlova’? Read on and be enlightened. Be warned, though, that the twists and turns of this ancient mystery may confuse and concern, and at times look bleak and dark, but in the end, we assure you, the side of goodness and right prevails.

In the early 1930s, Herbert (Bert) Sachse was the chef at the Esplanade Hotel in Perth. In 1934 he was asked by the manager to create a new delight for her favoured afternoon teas. He laboured and experimented for a month, and then, as was tradition, he presented the results at a meeting. The cake was a meringue, covered with cream and fruit. It is said that at the meeting, the manager remarked, ‘It is as light as Pavlova’ – and so the new cake was named. This story constitutes the core of the Australian claim to the cake.

But don’t despair, for not willing to let the matter end on this hearsay and heresy, many New Zealand researchers have searched tirelessly to restore the good name of the Kiwi cooks, and have uncovered two key pieces of evidence.

The National Library in Wellington has in its collection a cookery book, published in 1929 – a full five years before the purported cake presentation in Perth – which contains in it a recipe for ‘pavlova cakes’. So it may seem that the Kiwi claim is paramount? Not really, because although the ingredients are similar, the recipe describes the process for making three dozen small meringues, not the good old pav as we know it. Damn, our claim begins to look shaky.

But not for long. In 1927 – eight long years earlier than Bert – the good ladies of the Terrace Congregational Church in Wellington published the second edition of ‘Terrace Tested Recipes’. In it was a recipe for meringue cake, sent in by a Mrs McRae – blessed be her name – which is exactly the same as the pavlova. Subsequently, similar recipes were published in other magazines in the early 1930s. And then, to put the kiwifruit on the cake, Bert Sachse himself admitted in a magazine article in 1977 that his creation was really an attempt to improve earlier recipes.

So for all intents and purposes, the inventor of the cake must surely be the mysterious Mrs McRae – but what about the naming of it? It looks like the Aussies may have the jump on us – although they didn’t invent the idea of naming cakes per se after Pavlova, it looks like it was they who christened the cake we know today. Interestingly, in a parallel piece of research, gastronomic historians have also recently proven that the lamington, that coconut-covered cake of controversy, was also a Kiwi invention with an Aussie name link. Originally called the ‘Wellington cake’, it was renamed for the English Lord Lamington, governor of Queensland, who visited New Zealand in 1895 and apparently loved the treat.

Those Aussies are always nicking our ideas . . . Now, Phar Lap on the other hand . . . 


The original Pavlova
A Pav, although the topping could be improved
Pavlova's visit to Australia and NZ was the inspiration for the meringue cake
Now THAT'S a Pav

More Information

My Mum Maureen's Recipe for the Pavlova


3 egg whites

3 tablespoons cold water

8 ozs sugar

1 dessertspoon cornflour

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla



Beat egg whites until stiff then beat in water, and add sugar a little at a time until it’s all used.  Beat until all the sugar is dissolved.  Fold in cornflour, vinegar, and vanilla.  Line a 20 cm cake tin with baking paper or buttered greaseproof paper.  Spoon in the Pavlova mixture and bake in preheated oven 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes then turn oven down to 120 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool well away from draughts.   Once cool, top with cream and your choice of fruit.  Enjoy!