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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anzac Biscuits for ANZAC Day

If you're ever given the challenge of making a traditional Australian/New Zealand food for an event, your child's school, whatever, then this is the one! A true, unique Aussie/Kiwi food!
Yesterday was ANZAC day here in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, at least, the day is a public holiday, similar to the US Veteran's day, but in our case it commemorates the day of the bloody, tragic Battle at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. It is a day marked by services at Shrines of Rememberance and war memorials in every city and town across Australia, and the only day when it is legal to play two-up, an "ancient" Aussie gambling game involving planks of wood,2 copper coins and copious pints of beer!

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it must be remembered that during World War I, the Australian and NZ army corps were fighting for the British, under the British flag. The British army had sustained major losses and the Prime Minister called on the colonies to join fight with the British. Or to be more blunt, we were used as canon fodder.
That April 25 the British made a decision to invade the Gallipoli Peninsula. In order to distract enemy troops, they sent thousands of the Australian and New Zealand troops to land on the beaches. The thing is, the beach was surrounded by cliffs, and those cliffs were full of soliders with guns. Our boys had no chance, and that day thousands of young Australian and New Zealand soldiers were sacrificed by the British in a tactical error of enormous proportions. The Australian population at that time was only 5 million, and we lost tens of thousands of lives during a war that meant little to our country, but was fought with goodwill for our mother country.
It is now said that it was that event that shaped the Australian future. Suddenly we couldn't look up to Mother England as our protector as we had witnessed how they had treated us. It was at that point that Australia started to turn away from Britain, and attempt more independence. Commentators today say the Australian spirit of mateship and determination was forged at Gallipoli and all kinds of other sugary cliches, but it's not an overstatement that the easy-going nature of the Australians and New Zealanders was abused, and we were hurt and insulted.
I have to point out that I love the UK. I'm a great fan of Britain, but this is one event I just have never been able to understand and it still makes me upset. A lot my feelings must come from the excellent movie Gallipoli, with a young Mel Gibson which I recommend you watch (with a box of tissues). I had to watch this film in Year 9 history, and I remember being in tears all through the next classes!

But onto cheerier thoughts! One positive thing that emerged from World War I is one of the very few distinctively Aussie/Kiwi culinary creations, the Anzac biscuit. I took the following text from the Anzac Day site above, as it describes in more detail about these yummy biscuits.
During World War 1 and World War 2, Australians were fiercely patriotic. The wives, mothers and girlfriends were concerned for the nutritional value of the food being supplied to their men. Here was a problem. Any food they sent to the fighting men had to be carried in the ships of the Merchant Navy. Most of these were lucky to maintain a speed of ten knots (18.5 kilometres per hour). Most had no refrigerated facilities, so any food sent had to be able to remain edible after periods in excess of two months. A body of women came up with the answer - a biscuit with all the nutritional values possible. The basis was a Scottish recipe using rolled oats which were used extensively in Scotland, especially for a heavy porridge that helped counteract the extremely cold climate.
The ingredients they used were rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water. All these items did not readily spoil.

A point of interest is the lack of eggs to bind the ANZAC biscuit mixture together. Because of the war, many of the poultry farmers had joined the services, thus eggs were scarce. The binding agent for the biscuits was golden syrup or treacle.
As the war drew on, many groups like the CWA (Country Women's Association), church committees, schools and other women's organisations devoted a great deal of time to the making of ANZAC biscuits. To ensure that the biscuits remained crisp, they were packed in used tins such as Billy Tea tins. The tins were airtight, thus no moisture in the atmosphere was able to soak into the biscuits and make them soft.
I have to admit, I never knew that about the lack of eggs in the recipe before and found it very interesting. The use of golden syrup (light treacle) really gives these biscuits their distinctive taste. To me it's such a taste of Australia, so yesterday I couldn't not whip up a batch. They're incredibly easy to make and have so few ingredients. I cooked them up at my boyfriend's house where his cousin was also staying, and I've never seen two grown men get so excited about biscuits warm from the oven. Later on when A's dad turned up I fully expected he'd eat his way through the whole tin!
I found this recipe on Barbara's site, and it makes a great crispy biscuit; the perfect Anzac texture.

Read on for the recipe:

125g (4 ozs) Flour
150g (6ozs) Sugar
1 cup Coconut
1 cup Rolled Oats
75g (30zs) Butter
2 tablespoon Golden Syrup
1/2 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tablespoons Boiling water

Mix together flour, sugar, oats and coconut.
Melt butter and Golden Syrup.
Dissolve Bicarbonate of soda in boiling water and add to butter mixture.
Mix liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients.
Place in spoonfuls onto a cold greased (or lined with baking paper) tray.
Bake 15 - 20 minutes at 180C( 350F). Make sure the batter is pressed down, because you don't want chunky Anzacs. That'd just be wrong! I went into the oven with a spoon half way through the cooking to press them down as I thought they had puffed up a little too much.
Barbara notes: The mixture may seem a little dry but it will bind together while it cooks. I used a dessertspoonful size and the biscuits were cooked perfectly at 15 minutes baking time.
This recipe has been adapted from the Edmonds Cookbook.


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