As we approach Anzac Day (April 25), I check my larder for supplies of rolled oats and golden syrup - to be certain that I have enough to bake at least one, if not two, batches of my Anzac Biscuits.
Baking Anzacs on that day has been an annual tradition in my kitchen. I don't believe I have missed a year since 1978, the year that I was married. My then-husband loved them, as did my children. Peter loves them too.
The first time I made Anzac biscuits was in a high school home economics class several years earlier, from a recipe in The Commonsense Cookery Book. The teacher explained the origins of the biscuit, and its significance to the landing of the troops at Gallipoli in 1915.
It is said that women baked the biscuits and posted them overseas to their beloved menfolk who were fighting in the war. However, in her book, Bold Palates: Australia's Gastronomic Heritage (Wakefield Press), author and food historian, Professor Barbara Santich, writes "there is no evidence that Australian women packed tins of homemade biscuits and despatched them off to loved ones in the trenches". Professor Santich confirms that tins of biscuits were distributed, but adds that it is unlikely that they were homemade.
The web site for the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra has a page dedicated to Anzac biscuits, referring to them as "the army biscuit", "Anzac wafers" and "Anzac tiles".
According to the AWM, the said biscuit "[was] essentially a long shelf-life, hardtack biscuit, eaten as a substitute for bread. Unlike bread, though, the biscuits [were] very, very hard. Some soldiers preferred to grind them up and eat as porridge."
A recipe from Arnott's Biscuits Limited is provided on the page, along with two others. The ingredients of the first are simply a combination of flour, wholemeal flour, sugar, milk powder, a "good pinch of salt", and some water. Given this, the resulting biscuit would have been an almost indestructible, if not inedible, cracker of teeth.
So, how did the Anzac biscuit of today - with its quintessential mixture of rolled oats, coconut, sugar, flour, baking soda, butter and golden syrup - come about? Back to the esteemed Professor Santich, who has trawled in depth through numerous old cookery titles in search of the answer.
Her findings include Mrs Ralston's receipt for "biscuits" in the War Chest Cookery Book, which was published in 1917; and one for Anzac biscuits or "crispies", published in the Argus (Melbourne's daily newspaper) in 1920. The recipe referred to rolled oats produced by John Bull, suggesting that it may have appeared on a packet of the product. But neither of these recipes contained coconut.
Professor Santich concludes that "sometime in the 1920s... the concept of a biscuit that eventually became known as the Anzac was widely popularised."
So, there you have it - a snippet on the history of Anzac biscuits.
A handful of the best recipes for Anzac biscuits (IMHO)...
A quick search of the interwebs results in some 358,000 recipes for Anzac biscuits - including traditional, chewy, crunchy, healthy, detox (gah!), and without coconut. And then there's a conglomeration of Anzac baking offshoots in the form of muffins, slices, cheesecakes, balls, scones, and more.
It all sounds like happy baking, but I prefer not to tinker too much with the recipe that I was first given all those decades ago. Over the years, I have adapted it, giving it more of an Australian flavour with the addition of some chopped macadamia nuts and, sometimes, a sprinkle of wattle seeds. You will find it at the top of the list below.
Another favourite recipe, the second in the list, comes from my lovely friend Carmen from Honey Delight. Carmen is a beekeeper and uses honey in place of golden syrup. The recipe came from Carmen's mother, and her honeyed Anzacs have won prizes at the Royal Canberra Show.
Third on my list is a recipe by the fabulous Emma Galloway, a.k.a. My Darling Lemon Thyme. Emma uses quinoa and rice flour in her recipe for Anzacs, as well as lemon. Incidentally, Emma has just released her second book, A Year in My Kitchen. Watch this space for my review, coming soon.
And finally, Teresa Cutter's sugar-free Anzac biscuits, made with spelt flour and macadamia oil. Teresa is a trained chef and nutritionist, who writes under the banner of the Healthy Chef.
For more information about Anzac Day ceremonies that will take place across Australia in 2016, visit the AWM web site.
You may also be interested in my 2015 essay,We Will Remember Them.
Tell me dear readers, have you ever baked or tasted Anzac biscuits? Do you like yours chewy or crunchy?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes; postcards and morsels from my travels; conversations with cookery writers
and chefs; and news on food, cookbooks
- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.