The origins of Anzac biscuits

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For more than a century, Anzac Biscuits have been associated with the First World War and the national day remembering the Australian troops’ landing at Gallipoli, 25 April 1915.

The biscuits were sold at fetes and public events to raise funds for the military effort. They were also sometimes sent by wives and women’s groups to soldiers serving overseas because the ingredients were readily available and did not perish, especially on the two-month voyage across the seas.

But Anzac biscuits are not to be confused with the soldier's ration staple called the hardtack biscuit, sometimes also known as Anzac tiles or Anzac wafer biscuits. These hardtack biscuits were so hard that the troops had to soak them in water in order to make them edible.

The Anzac biscuit recipe we know and love was based on rolled oats which were common in Scotland for making a thick and nutritious porridge to ward off the extreme cold.

The first version, according to food historian Allison Reynolds, appeared in 1823 and then took on the names of ‘Surprise Biscuits’, ‘Crispies’, ‘Red Cross Biscuits’ and ‘Soldiers’ Biscuits’.

After the Australians landed on Gallipoli they became known as Anzac Biscuits, taking on the acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

Eggs were omitted because they were so scarce in wartime, so golden syrup or treacle was used as the binding agent.

To make sure they remained crisp they were packed in used tins such as Billy Tea cans.

From the 1920s Australian cookbooks included a recipe for Anzac Biscuits, and many families still have a favourite recipe.

The first newspaper mention of Anzac Biscuits was in June 1916 when The Sunday Times in Perth published a recipe for "Anzac Ginger Biscuits".

Then, after requests from readers, The Age in Melbourne printed the recipe and it began appearing in baking competitions at country shows.

'Anzac Ginger Biscuits' Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 breakfast cups John Bull oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 scant cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 tbsp Golden syrup
  • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda

Method: Mix one tablespoon of golden syrup, two tablespoons boiling water, and one teaspoon of soda until they froth; then add the melted butter. Mix in dry ingredients, and drop in spoonfuls on a floured tray. Bake in a slow oven [140 degrees Celcius].

Country Women's Association Recipe

Various women’s groups sold the biscuits for fundraising drives. The Country Women’s Association published this recipe (with coconut) in its Calendar of Cake and Afternoon Tea Delicacies in 1933:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)

Method

Melt butter. Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter. Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid. Place small balls on a buttered tray and bake in a moderate oven [175 degrees Celcius]. Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft until cold.