Pink lamingtons

I am still puzzled about why a comment about lamingtons won the 2022 New Zealand Quote of the Year competition:

“I would have thought that Grant Robertson would be a much bigger threat to lamingtons than lamingtons would be a threat to Grant Robertson.”

The winning comment was by politician David Seymour about Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson’s need for police protection against protestors, one of whom was carrying a large pink lamington.

The explanation of the quote’s popularity by the competition organisers at Massey University was that it is an example of the “art form” known as “a reversible raincoat sentence” because the words lamington, Grant Robertson and threat were all repeated in the sentence. Also, that lamingtons have been used in previous high profile protests by Kiwis against national and local body politicians. I suspect it was the element of sizeism in the comment which seemed humorous.

The precise origin of Lamingtons is generally well-accepted as having been invented by Charles Wallace Alexander Napier Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, the state governor of Queensland, and that the first recipe was published in 1900. One story is that it was Lord Lamington’s French chef who invented them, using coconut introduced by his Tahitian wife. It is said that it happened at Harlaxton House, their country home near Toowoomba. Lord Lamington’s son had no children so his title then became extinct, but his name lives on forever in the cakes. And in Toowoomba, “Home of the Lamington”, the legend is definitely alive.

Detail from poster at the Toowoomba Information Centre

Cross-Tasman rivalry was briefly re-ignited in 2014 in an article in the Guardian which described Auckland University research proving “beyond doubt” that lamingtons were developed here:

Fresh analysis of a collection of 19th-century watercolours by the New Zealand landscape artist JR Smythe, shows that in one portrait, “Summer Pantry” dated 1888, a partially eaten Lamington cake is clearly visible on the counter of a cottage overlooking Wellington Harbour.

A helpful red line circled the evidence in the slightly blurry picture, but alert readers noticed that the writer of the article, Olaf Priol, was an anagram, before checking the date – 1 April. This was a year after Toowoomba academic David French’s The lamington enigma: A survey of the evidence was published (I have yet to get a copy).

The name Lamington has the sound of British aristocracy. It is evidently a Flemish name from the Old French Lambert, in turn from Old High German Landberht from land (home) and beraht (bright), and then to Lambin which includes the diminutive suffix -in.

The week before the New Zealand Quote of the Year competition finalists were announced in Aotearoa I was at a conference in Wellington where pink lamingtons were offered for morning tea. Unlike all the other catering at the conference, these were not snapped up. My theory at the time was that the large numbers of Australians at the conference were wary of the pink versions. There does not seem to be the same online interest in the origin of pink lamingtons. I referred to the authority on Australian baking, the Australian Women’s Weekly: Last year for Australia Day the Weekly posted “eleven simple Australian lamington recipes” – only three of the eleven were some shade of pink, and none were made with the classic (Kiwi?) method of dipping in raspberry jelly.

But maybe the lack of enthusiasm for our morning tea was actually because of the association of lamingtons with political protest, at odds with the friendly conference atmosphere? I have been unable to see any reference to lamingtons used in politics in Australia (although there was an article about someone choking to death on a lamington on Australia Day in 2020). So perhaps it was the pink after all.

PS It has since been pointed out to me that in Australia lamingtons have also been linked to tax breaks!

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