The lure of the lamington

June 2008

There was movement at the cake shops because the word had got around that Kytons Bakery in South Australia had won the prize for the best lamington in Australia — and therefore the world (oh, be quiet, New Zealanders) at the National Baking Awards. We spoke to Sharon Sutton, the current owner of Kytons (there have been three in its 70 years), and she was as proud as punch and told me she uses real cocoa, no artificial flavours or colours, a really good sponge and only one preservative (potassium sorbate 202).

On the other hand, Sharon admitted her lamingtons, at 4cm x 5cm, were a tad larger than the CWA standard of 1.25 inches (3.175cm), "but not as big as some of those monsters you see", she sniffed. Quite right. And you’ll be pleased to know that with the bestowal of this award, Kytons is now looking at sending its champion lamingtons to us for sale in supermarkets. Watch this space.
The perplexing question about lamingtons has always been: where does the name come from? The first mention of "lamington" was used to describe a hat, a sort of a homburg, worn by Lord Lamington, the governor of Queensland 1896–1901. Various stories have incorrectly linked the good lord to the cake, the very best from the late lamented satirical writer John Hepworth writing in the equally late lamented Nation Review in 1977. It was in Cloncurry in Queensland, at a glittering banquet, that "an irascible diner seized a piece of sponge cake which had dropped into a dish of brown gravy and hurled it over his shoulder in a fairly grumpy manner. The soggy piece of cake landed in a dish of shredded coconut which was standing on the sideboard waiting for the service of an Indian curry." A certain Agnes Lovelightly, in a flash of genius, saw the possibility of substituting chocolate sauce for the brown gravy and so the lamington was born. Hepworth continues: "It would have been nice ... had this great good gateau been named for the humble genius whose invention, or divine perception, it was. But in the snobby, bumsucking manner of the day, it was named in honour of Baron Lamington, who was governor of Queensland at the time. For many years, lamingtons were served on state ceremonial occasions in Queensland and won universal approbation. But Baron Lamington himself could by no means abide them. He invariably — and somewhat oddly —referred to them as "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits".
The other lovely story of the lamington is that it derives from the lemming, the suicidal rodent, plus ton as in "tons of". This tells us that lemmingtons, are cakes made out of (minced) lemmings who haven’t yet drowned themselves. The lemmingtons are then liberally sploshed with chocolate and rolled in desiccated coconut. In 1992, according to the The Dictionary of New Zealand English, someone wrote in a complaints book: "The lemmingtons in the cafe aren’t made of real lemmings (something should be done about this)."

And we can’t leave these lurid lamington legends (you can tell there’s not a lot of real news this month, can’t you?) without mentioning that the splendid

Rachel Grisewood and her crew at Manna from Heaven are making a sensational lamington (we’ll have to compare it to the Kyton when it arrives) using Callebaut chocolate and "loads of coconut". You’ll get them from the Good Living Growers Market (Pyrmont Bay Park Pyrmont) on the first Saturday of each month; or, if you want something special for a lamington drive, ring Manna 24 hours ahead and pick them up from the factory (69-71 Marrickville Road, Marrickville, Ph 9517 3688).

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