1994, and in her beloved food column, Lois Daish writes about the history of the Anzac biscuit, and debunks a myth: she had been told as a girl in the 1940s that the biscuits were sent off to New Zealand soldiers in World War I. However, after searching for evidence of this, she concluded that Anzac biscuits weren’t invented until the early 1930s. (This was to be revised later; see below.)
“Initially, there were two competing recipes,” wrote Daish, “each one recorded in a similar number of early cookbooks. One, favoured by Aunt Daisy and the Country Women’s Institute, had wholemeal flour and walnuts in the dry ingredients, and no rolled oats. This recipe seems to have dropped out of sight in later years. The other version was first published in 1935 in the Edmonds Cookbook, and has gone on to become the standard recipe, with rolled oats an essential ingredient.
“My favourite Anzac biscuit recipe was given to me by Lyndie Pillar, who was my friend and neighbour in suburban Wellington in the 1960s. It was her baking of our traditional cakes and biscuits that made me realise they were among the best recipes in the world. Lyndie’s Anzacs were thin, flat and crisp, with a touch of chewiness in the middle.
“Here is Lyndie’s recipe, now in metric measurements. To measure the golden syrup, first dip the measuring spoon in boiling water, so that the syrup will slide off easily. Erratic measuring of the syrup is the main cause of problems in making Anzac biscuits.”
LYNDIE’S ANZAC BISCUITS
3 tbsp golden syrup
¼ cup boiling water
1 ½ tsp baking soda
100g rolled oats
75g desiccated coconut
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Gently heat the butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan until the butter melts. Pour the boiling water into a cup and dissolve the soda. Mix the flour, sugar, rolled oats and coconut together in a large bowl. Add the soda and water to the saucepan of hot butter and syrup and immediately pour the foaming mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Cover two baking trays with baking paper, or wipe with butter and dust with flour. Place heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture on the prepared trays, leaving room for spreading. Bake at 180ºC for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits have melted flat and baked to a rich brown. Remove from the oven and leave the biscuits to harden for a few minutes before lifting with a spatula. Place in a single layer on a rack to finish cooling. Makes about 3 dozen.
Daish also noted that “although Lyndie’s recipe could now be regarded as the standard model, recipes for Anzac biscuits haven’t stood still. The main changes in recent years have been to add other ingredients. I’m usually a bit of a purist about these matters, but I have to admit that some of the new versions are very good. I particularly like Anzacs with 100g of sultanas added to Lyndie’s recipe, or 50g of sultanas and 50g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped.”
In another update on the Anzac biscuit in July 1994, Daish pieced together more of its history from “the many readers and foodwriters who shared with me what information they had”.
“At first I despaired of there being any truth to the myth that I grew up with, that these biscuits were sent in food parcels to soldiers in the trenches of Europe. Then I received a phone call from Beverley Bennett, who told me that her mother, Edith Shore, now aged 92, has clear memories of her girlhood during World War I, when she had helped her own mother pack Anzac biscuits into large golden syrup tins, which were then sent off to the front. The sending of food parcels to troops overseas, a common activity in World War II, was apparently unusual in World War I: except for small items, such as tinned lollies and sardines.
“Certainly there are no published references to Anzac biscuits until well after World War I was over. The earliest I have seen was from 1927. This was in Terrace Tested Recipes, collected by the ladies of the Terrace Congregational Church, Wellington.
EARLIEST (SO FAR) PUBLISHED RECIPE FOR ANZAC BISCUITS
From Terrace Tested Recipes (Whitcombe and Tombs 1927)
M R Pritchard
Take a quarter of a pound of butter and one tablespoon of golden syrup. Place in a saucepan and melt. Add two tablespoonsful of boiling water in which is dissolved one teaspoonful carbonate of soda. Add three-quarters of a breakfast cup of flour [use 250ml cup], one breakfast cup of sugar, one breakfast cup of desiccated coconut, one breakfast cup of oatina [rolled oats], and a few almonds finely chopped. Place in teaspoon quantities on a cold slide, and bake in a moderate oven [180ºC for 15-20 minutes]. Leave on a tray for a few minutes to harden before removing from slide, but not too long. A knife slipped under each biscuit will readily remove.
In 2000, Daish revisited the Anzac biscuit in light of research by food historian Helen Leach: “For her, the history of the Anzac biscuit is a perfect example of how food and recipes mirror the development of New Zealand society.
“The name of the biscuit says a lot about our national identity back in the 1920s, when recipes for Anzac biscuits were first published. We had just come through a terrible war, which, although it took place on the other side of the world, killed 18,000 New Zealanders. In 1915 ANZAC was chosen as the telegraphic address of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Egypt, but quickly became a word in its own right. One of the earliest biscuits to be given the name Anzac was not the recipe we use now, but one for a spicy rolled biscuit previously known as German biscuits. There were also Anzac cakes, which were a type of rock cake, and Anzac wafer was an ironic nickname for military hardtack. Later, Anzac came to signify the tragedy of war so powerfully that our national day of remembrance is called Anzac Day.
“So far, the earliest published recipe to be found in either country is a New Zealand one for Anzac Crispies, published in Dunedin in 1921 in the ninth edition of the St Andrews Cookery Book. Although we may feel a touch of national pride that this was two years earlier than the first documentary Australian recipe, Helen points out that it is possible that an earlier reference my yet be unearthed. To her, it is more interesting to note the close link between home bakers in both countries than it is to gloat over being first.
“Helen says it is not the dry ingredients that define what an Anzac biscuit is. Rather, it is the method of adding to the dry ingredients, a hot fizzy mixture of melted fat, golden syrup and baking soda dissolved in boiling water.
“She has developed her own variant of the recipe in Eleanor Gray’s Basic New Zealand Cookbook (John McIndoe, 1978) and replaced the butter with delicately flavoured oils so that people who want to cut down on dairy fats can still enjoy them.”
1 cup (125g) sifted flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup rolled oats
¼ cup chopped pistachios (or other nuts)
½ cup good quality oil, eg, part grapeseed and part almond
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly butter a baking tray, or line with baking paper. In a large bowl mix the flour, coconut, rolled oats, sugar and pistachios. Pour the oil into a pot with the golden syrup and heat until bubbly. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and add to the golden syrup mixture. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Place teaspoons of the mixture on the baking tray, allowing space for spreading. Press down with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown. Makes 30.
Originally posted April 21, 2011