The Jewish Palate: Kiwi Jews of New Zealand

Chef Dennis Wasko explores the relatively peaceful history of Australia's neighbor and discovers why pavlova is popular there.

June 20, 2011 13:41
4 minute read.

pavlova 311. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Jewish settlement in New Zealand began early in the 19th century. By the 1830’s, Jewish traders arrived and quickly established themselves in the emerging country. These Jews played a vital role in establishing trade, with Australia and Great Britain, which led to the over all development of New Zealand. By the time New Zealand became a British Colony in 1840, the Jewish population numbered fewer than 30 individuals.

The first Jewish community was founded in Auckland in 1840 by a man named David Nathan and a dozen other local Jewish business men and shopkeepers. The small community met together in a small building to celebrate Jewish life and hold services. In October 1841 the first Jewish wedding in New Zealand was held in Auckland.

A second major Jewish hub developed in Wellington, just south of Auckland. Much like the Auckland community, the first Jews to settle in Wellington were traders. The first Jew to arrive was Abraham Hort, Jr. in 1840. He was followed three years later by his father Abraham Hort, Sr. who hoped to found a community and promote immigration to New Zealand to reduce Jewish poverty in England. Holt, Sr. founded the Wellington Hebrew Congregation in 1843.

In the 1860’s, gold was discovered in New Zealand and the Jewish population spread throughout the country as the precious metal was invaluable to the Jewish traders. While Auckland and Wellington remained the major hubs of Jewish New Zealand, smaller communities were established throughout the country. By 1861, 326 Jews lived in New Zealand, and by 1867 the number soared to 1,262.

In the 20th century, Jewish immigrants have arrived mainly from the form the former Soviet Union and South Africa. Today, there are about 10,000 Kiwi Jews in New Zealand with the majority living in Auckland and Wellington. 

Jews have lived peacefully New Zealand, and New Zealand at one time shared strong relations with the State of Israel. New Zealand voted in favor of the 1947 Partition Plan.  Over the last several decades however, relations with the Jewish State have cooled and in 2002, the Israeli Embassy in Wellington was closed. Since then, Israeli travelers have reported being harassed and detained at the Auckland airport with some being accused of drug smuggling and espionage. In 2004, the Kiwi government openly criticized Israel’s bulldozing policies and donated $534,000 to aid Palestinian squatters. In 2004 a larger scandal involving Mossad and New Zealand passports erupted.

In 2010, New Zealand attempted to ban the kosher slaughter of animals, but after much criticism from world Jewish communities, the decision was reversed.

The Cuisine of New Zealand is very similar to that of Australia, largely driven by local ingredients and seasonal variety. The cooking is British-based with Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences. Perhaps the most well known of Kiwi desserts is the Pavlova, (though Australia also claims to be the originator). 

Pavlova consists of a baked meringue shell which is usually filled with freshly whipped cream and piled high with seasonal fruit. Texturally complex with crispy meringue and refreshing fruit, this is a light summery dessert that can easily be made parve by omitting the cream and replacing it with jam and a fruit juice-based pastry "cream."

Strawberries and Cream Pavlova
Serves 8

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup caster sugar (fine sugar)
3 teaspoons cornstarch
½ cup strawberry jam
2 cups heavy whipping cream (for dairy preparation)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 pints (about 4 cups) farm fresh strawberries and additional berries for garnish, cleaned, topped, and sliced
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Equipment: parchment paper
Preheat oven to 350

1. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the vinegar, vanilla, and water and continue to beat while gradually adding the sugar. Finally, add the cornstarch and continue whipping until the whites from stiff, glossy peaks.

2. Spread the meringue on a parchment lined baking sheet in a 9-inch circle. Form the meringue so that it is higher on the sides than in the middle, forming a shallow bowl shape.

3. Bake the meringue in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the Pavlova to remain in the oven for an additional hour.

4. Remove the Pavlova, cool slightly, and carefully place on a serving plate.

5. Beat the heavy cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar until stiff but not dry peaks form.

6. Sprinkle the sliced strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and allow to macerate (this will make the berries soft and juicy) for 5 minutes.

7. To assemble, spread a layer of jam in the bottom of the Pavlova.  Place a layer of strawberries on the jam and top with whipped cream.  Garnish with additional strawberries.

8.    Chill and serve.

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