The argument has raged for nearly a century: did Australia or New Zealand invent the pavlova, a dessert of meringue, whipped cream, soft fruit and sugar? Now an apparently definitive answer has been given – by the Oxford English Dictionary.

According to the newly revamped online version of the OED, the first recorded pavlova recipe appeared in a 1927 book, Davis Dainty Dishes, published in New Zealand by the Davis Gelatine company.

Both countries claim the dessert as a national dish, agreeing only that it was created in honour of Anna Pavlova, the Russian ballerina who toured the region in the 1920s. Australians insist it was dreamt up by Bert Sachse, a chef at the Esplanade Restaurant, Perth, in 1935.

The OED's statement was greeted with jubilation in New Zealand, which often accuses its larger neighbour of appropriating its best exports, including the Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and the legendary racehorse Phar Lap. Crowe was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia at the age of four; Phar Lap was born in New Zealand, but raced in Australia.

"New Zealand has won the battle of the pavlova," the Television New Zealand website boasted yesterday. It added that the dictionary's conclusion "should be the last word in the trans-Tasman Sea debate". In another online report, the Newstalk ZB radio station said the OED "proves what we've known all along – the pavlova is a Kiwi invention".

While there was a resounding silence yesterday on the opposite side of the Tasman, a note of scepticism was sounded by Helen Leach, a culinary anthropologist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand.

Professor Leach published a book two years ago – The Pavlova Story: A Slice of New Zealand's Culinary History – in which she described Davis Gelatine's version as "tremulous multi-coloured jelly".

She believes the dessert first appeared in a rural magazine, the NZ Dairy Exporter Annual, in 1929. That timing would also vindicate New Zealand's claim. And while it may all sound a bit trivial, national pride is at stake. When John Key was elected as New Zealand's Prime Minister two years ago, one of his first acts was to dismiss Australia's pavlova claim as "totally ridiculous".

Professor Leach says the pavlova did not appear in any Australian cookbooks until the 1940s.

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