The History of ANZAC Biscuits

The concept of celebrating an event such as ANZAC Day with baked goods might seem strange to an outsider, but the ANZAC biscuit has played an important role for the Australian and New Zealand armed forces. Here are a few things you may not have known about the humble biscuit, along with a great pre-1920s recipe.  

The ANZAC Legend
Each year we dedicate the 25th of April to the commemoration of Aussie and NZ diggers who served and died during the first world war, and we pay our respects to the men and women with continuing involvement in the armed forces. It's fair to say that the qualities of courage, mateship and endurance embodied in the ANZAC legend have helped define our national identity. 
Why Biscuits?
It’s a common misconception that ANZAC biscuits were sent to troops in Gallipoli. At the time, the troops would have been given the standard army issue hardtack wholemeal biscuit which was reputedly a rock hard tooth-breaker. The exact origin of the ANZAC biscuits we know and love is actually a bit of a mystery. 

Otago University anthropology professor Helen Leach researches the origins of recipes, although she has a remarkable knack for claiming Aussie classics (the pavlova?) as New Zealand inventions. Her research indicates that the first time the modern version of the biscuit appeared alongside the ANZAC acronym was in 1921, when a recipe for 'ANZAC Crispies' was published in The St Andrew’s Cookery Book in New Zealand. 
We prefer the research of culinary historian Allison Reynolds. Reynolds traced the first known recipe for 'Anzac Biscuits' to the pre-1920 family notebook of a South Australian housewife named Carole Moore. Reynolds believes the recipe was written sometime between 1915 and 1919, as the last entry in the book is dated 1920.

While the finer details might be up for debate, oat-based baked goods have actually been a staple of Scottish cooking since the Roman invasion in 43AD. The sweetened variety reportedly appeared in around 1823 and were generally referred to as ‘rolled oat biscuits’, ‘surprise biscuits’, and ‘crispies’. 

During the early years of WWI, the name changed again. Invariably marketed as ‘Red Cross biscuits’ and ‘soldier’s biscuit’, they were sold at fetes, galas and fairs to raise money for the Australian and New Zealand war effort. The Patriotic Fund in New Zealand reported to have raised £6.5 million from sales of the biscuit. 

The recipe was especially practical because the ingredients were easily acquired and did not include eggs, which were in short supply during the war. Additionally, using syrup instead of eggs as a binding agent meant that the biscuits wouldn’t easily spoil, making them the perfect item to send the long distances to troops overseas. 

When news of the Gallipoli landing reached Australia and New Zealand, the ANZAC legend was born and the ‘soldier’s biscuit’ had one final and significant name change. 

If you’d like to try your hand at the recipe as written in Carole Moore’s notebook all those years ago, you'll first need to stock up on ingredients. Head to the baking aisle at Coles or Woolworths
So that you know what to aim for, ANZAC biscuits entered in the Max Webber Library 'Great ANZAC Biscuit Bake Off' are judged on taste, appearance, chewiness and texture. If you’d prefer to skip the baking and go straight to the eating, you can also buy ready-made ANZAC biscuits at Coles and Woolworths.

2 cups      rolled oats
1 cup        plain flour
1/2 cup      granulated sugar
125g          butter
1 tbsp        golden syrup (be sure to make it an “extra generous tbsp”)
1 tsp          bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp        boiling water

1. Pre-heat oven to 150C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
2. Put the oats, flour and sugar into a large bowl and mix well.
3. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat and add the golden syrup, stirring until dissolved. Remove from the heat source (but don't allow to cool).
4. Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda with the boiling water and add to the pan of hot melted butter and golden syrup.
5. Stir until the mixture froths up, then immediately add to the dry ingredients and mix together.
6. Taking a dessert-spoon of the mixture, use your hands to roll into a ball and place 5 cm apart on the baking sheet. You can use the base of a glass or fork to flatten them out. 
7. Place trays in the oven for 15–18 minutes until biscuits are gold in colour.
8. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before transferring biscuits to a cooling rack. Once cool, store in an air-tight container.