The word ANZAC is in fact an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; and most people will know, even if American English is their preferred form of the language, that a biscuit in Australia is much the same thing as a cookie in the US. ANZAC biscuits began as a tasty treat baked by Australian women to send to their menfolk serving in the allied trenches in Europe during the war of 1914-1918.
Sustenance in the trenches
The hard biscuit made with rolled oats, coconut and golden syrup (U.S. molasses, U.K. treacle) was sweet and nourishing and had the added advantage of lasting and travelling well. Many a soldier, up to his waist in the mud of the trenches, suspended between life and death, must have wept grateful tears when he opened his parcel and found inside the essence of his faraway home baked lovingly into a biscuit.
The ANZACs at Gallipoli
At least a part of the reason for the biscuit’s lasting popularity must lie in the persistence of the legendary status enjoyed in their own countries by the former ANZAC forces. On April 25, 1915, a large deployment of ANZAC troops landed on the beach at Gallipoli in Turkey. It was at best a bungled stratagem by the British generals in command, at worst a cynical sacrifice of expendable colonial soldiers in an unwinnable battle. Approximately 11,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers perished during the campaign, but both living and dead comrades marched into legend and history.
April 25, 1915 is widely regarded in Australia as the day on which national consciousness was born, in this sense far more significant than either Australia Day (Jan. 26) or the anniversary of Federation (Jan. 1). For this reason April 25 is celebrated as a national holiday, ANZAC day, marked by dawn services at war memorials, marches and gatherings by the veterans of every war in which Australia has fought, and an annual commemoration at Gallipoli attended by ever increasing numbers of young Australians seeking to understand their national identity and to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Throughout Australia ANZAC biscuits are baked or bought on this day, and eaten in memory of those brave men.
Changing times, enduring biscuits
Australia and New Zealand no longer maintain a joint military force. Nor do they automatically support the United Kingdom when that nation chooses to go to war. These former British colonies have come of age and asserted their political independence whilst still acknowledging the monarch of Great Britain as their head of state. In these days they choose their own wars, and participate in peacekeeping missions wearing the United Nations blue headgear rather than following the Union Jack. ANZAC biscuits, however, have endured, as popular today as they were almost one hundred years ago.
How to make ANZAC biscuits
ANZAC biscuits are in fact delicious, and are eaten throughout the year, not just on ANZAC day. Particularly popular with children, they are a school lunch box favourite they can easily make for themselves. Just mix together a cup of rolled oats, a cup of all-purpose flour, a cup of sugar and ¾ cup of desiccated coconut. Melt 125g (4 oz) of butter in a pan and stir in a tablespoon of golden syrup (treacle, molasses). Dissolve 1½ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) in 2 tablespoons of boiling water and add it to the warmed butter and syrup. Stir the resulting fizzy mixture into the dry ingredients, and form the resulting dough into about 25 balls. Place them on greased baking trays (well apart because they will spread) and bake at 150ºC (300ºF) for about twenty minutes. Don’t remove them from the baking trays until they are cool.
As you are crunching into these tasty biscuits, remember those brave but ill-fated ANZAC troops, and be aware that you are participating in an Australian custom by honouring their memory.