One of the many benefits of travel is that it opens our eyes to all the ways in which the various cultures and traditions of our world are interlinked.
Take, for instance, Australian Rules Football. I don’t think anyone would dispute it is an Australian invention. And it seems a particularly unique part of the Australian culture . But when you stumble across a game of Gaelic football in Ireland, suddenly AFL doesn’t seem such a completely isolated case. The ways in which the two sports may or may not have had common origins are many and complex. No doubt historians and other academics will spend many hours analyzing this issue.
So, I was fascinated when a reader of one of my previous blogs who was holidaying in Slovenia, sent me an email recently regarding Lamingtons. Howard from Queensland wrote, “For breakfast today we were offered chocolate Lamingtons – only the Slovenes claim it as one of their oldest national dishes! Perhaps its origins lie in this very small part of Europe?”
Howard very kindly followed up with a photo of the ‘Lamingtons’ on their breakfast buffet:
You have to agree…they look a lot like the cake/dessert item that we call Lamingtons. And according to Howard, they tasted like them too.
I was intrigued, so I had to do a bit of research.
The item on the breakfast buffet is called čupavci, which roughly translates to furry (I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to declare this is because of their appearance.) And all recipes that I’ve found for them certainly point to the fact that they are, for all intents and purposes, essentially what we call a Lamington.
But which came first? The Lamington or the čupavci? And does it even matter?
Alison at One Crumb at a Time has written a fascinating and well-researched post on this exact topic. In that post, she highlights that the crucial ingredient in both the Lamington and the čupavci is dessicated coconut, and as it wasn’t available in commerical quantities in either Australia or Europe until the 1890s, that limits the timeframe of the invention of this dessert item in either of those places to within ten years of the first documented references to the Australian Lamington (which are 1901+).
But as to which country had it first? No clear conclusion. And, as Alison says, the more interesting question is whether it is it possible that identical cakes were produced at roughly the same time in both Eastern Europe and Queensland, Australia?
But there’s not even consensus about when and where the Lamington itself first appeared in Australia. Perhaps it was the invention of the French chef at Queensland Government House , maybe an errant kitchen maid dropped the spongecake in chocolate, or could it even be the brainchild of a Miss Amy Schauer who taught cooking at the Brisbane Technical College? And were any of these ‘inventors’ influenced by čupavci or vice versa?
Ahhhh…the tangled food webs of the world.
Regardless of their provenance, Lamingtons are definitely a significant part of the Australian culture, and recently I’ve seen some amazing variations on the basic recipe creeping into the cafe scene around Melbourne.
Food culture – it’s a living, breathing, evolving thing.
What’s your favourite local food? Do you know its origins?
Note: an earlier version of this post referred to a Guardian article suggesting Lamingtons were a New Zealand invention. This article was an April Fool’s joke. I have removed the reference to it. The origins of the Lamington is far too serious a topic to joke about.