Simple Food: ANZAC Biscuits and their history
My absolute favourite biscuit to make and eat is the ANZAC biscuit. With ANZAC Day upon us I thought I’d look a little into the history of this delicious little item.
Baking has been becoming an increasingly popular pastime for many of us in Coronavirus quarantine and ANZACs are a simple item for the novice baker or kids to produce, so long as you can get your hands on the basic, essential ingredients. These items are always store-cupboard staples in my household and a batch can easily be knocked up with no special tools in under half an hour. What’s not to love? With ANZAC Day memorial services suspended around the nation this year in view of social distancing restrictions, baking ANZACS might be my way of acknowledging the day this year.
First, the recipe… make up a batch, stick them in the oven and read on…..
125 g unsalted butter, melted
1 tbs golden syrup
2 tbs boiling water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease baking trays or line with baking paper.
Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl
Dissolve the syrup and baking soda in the boiling water (it will froth up), then add to the dry mix along with the melted butter. Mix well.
Roll into balls and place on the prepared trays approximately 5cm apart, flattening slightly. I like using an overfilled tablespoon amount, m but the choice is yours.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cooking slightly longer results in a crispier biscuit, undercook for a chewier result.
ANZAC Day is an annual day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand. It falls on the anniversary of the day in 1915 the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed fatefully at Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War. In what was the the first campaign of the war that lead to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces, the unsuccessful expedition lead to an eventual evacuation and the loss of thousands of Allied troops over months of military stalemate and incredible hardship. Yet despite the Gallipoli campaign failing to achieve its military objectives, the actions of the troops during the campaign became representative of the sacrifices made by all soldiers and inspired the concept referred to as the “ANZAC legend”, an important part of national cultural identity representing heroism and camaraderie in the face of great adversity.
During 1915, after news of the Gallipoli Landing had reached Australia and New Zealand, multiple states in Australia and New Zealand held impromptu services in honour of those lost. In 1916, an agreement was made to adopt the 25th April as an official day of (non-denominational) remembrance. During the remaining years of the war, this patriotic day was used for active recruitment by the Australian Defence forces and current servicemen marched. Since 1916, ANZAC memorials are organised mainly by returned servicemen and women (and their support organisations) along with schools and local councils.
Interestingly, the end of the WW1 was not marked by big parades for reasons similar to what we are experiencing this year. Whilst it was partially due to ships arriving back home at differing times, it was also influenced by the Influenza Epidemic of 1919 where large gatherings were cancelled. Many events were cancelled altogether, although a service was held in Sydney where participants had to wear masks and stand 3ft apart.
As time has gone on the popularity of the event has waxed and waned, and is now more broadly seen to commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peace keeping missions” and “the contribution and suffering of all who have served.” It is often commemorated by different memorial services, one often held at dawn - the time of the original landing at Gallipoli. Later in the day, ex-servicemen and women (or relatives in there stead) often take part in marches and parades. Other ceremonies are held at memorials around the country and may include hymns, prayers or addresses, the laying of wreaths, a period of silence, the playing the the Last Post, the Rouse or the Reveille and the national anthem. Red poppies may be placed next to relatives names on the memorial's roll of honour as is also done on Remembrance Day. As well as poppies, rosemary sprigs are often worn. Rosemary has special significance as it grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but since ancient times is also believed to enhance (and represent) memory.
So where does that lead the humble ANZAC biscuit in the ANZAC story? Well, the origin is in dispute. Anecdotally it is widely believed that ANZAC biscuits were sent to soldiers on the war fronts in care packages from home due to their robust ability to travel and long lasting capabilities, but despite the story being very feasible it would seem there is little evidence to support this. The other popular belief is that they got they name as a recipe widely made and sold at fetes etc as a fundraising item for the war effort.
There is evidence to suggest that similar oat biscuits existed pre-war (as early as 1823), but obviously the ANZAC name didn’t arise until WW1. Culinary historian Allison Reynolds spent 18 months trying to trace the ANZAC biscuits origins. The first printed recipe she found was under that name was in the War Chest Cookery Book of 1917, but the recipe is for a biscuit including eggs and sandwiched with jam and cream - nothing like the recipe known today. A much more identifiable recipe pops up in the notebook of a South Australian housewife in about 1919, but it’s still missing the essential coconut. The Anchor Ann Cookbook of 1924 has the first known recipe published for the ANZAC biscuit containing the now ubiquitous coconut.
Did you know the ANZAC biscuit is guarded by law? Well, actually it’s the use of the acronym ANZAC, which can’t be included in the name of anything without permission. Except… when it comes to ANZAC biscuits. You can label ANZAC biscuits without requiring permission to use the acronym so long as they are correctly referred to as “biscuits” and NOT “cookies” and that they are made to the traditional recipe. Subway Australia tried to make their own ANZACs in 2008, but were ordered by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to step inline with their rules. Subway dropped the biscuit from the menu when they couldn’t make it correctly and still be cost-effective.
Regardless of their exact origins, I am more than happy to continue making many, many biscuits to the old recipe. Each time I do I will spare a thought for those who have represented us in previous conflicts and peace keeping operations. With several of my own relatives having played their parts in the past during both World Wars and my own husband being an ex-Australian Defence Force soldier with overseas service, the story is close to home.
Lest We Forget.