Each Anzac Day in Australia, these humble biscuits are a sweet diversion on an otherwise sombre occasion. But have you ever found yourself wondering about the history of the Anzac biscuit? Well they’re widely believed to have originated around the time of World War I in 1915. Anzac biscuits were sent by wives and women’s groups to soldiers abroad because they travelled well and didn’t go mouldy like bread did. However, the biscuits that were sent to soldiers back then were a fry cry from the commercial sweet variety that is popular today.
Biscuits sent to soldiers during WWI were known as “Anzac Tiles “or “Anzac Wafers” and were an extremely hard substitute for bread that were necessary but quite unpalatable. In fact, there are records of soldiers inventing ways to make Anzac tiles more edible. One example was to grate them and add water to make a kind of porridge.
So durable were these biscuits, that the Australian War Memorial actually still holds in its collection some hardtack biscuits from WWI! Their texture and hardness even inspired Soldiers to use them for creative purposes like paint canvases or use as a board to write messages to send to family back home.
It is believed that the first historic recipe for the popular sweet Anzac biscuit we know today originated in New Zealand and was published in the 9th edition of the St Andrew's Cookery Book (Dunedin in 1921) under the name "Anzac Crispies". Later editions renamed the recipe “Anzac Biscuits” and Australian Cookery Books subsequently followed suit.
This may spark the old Aussie VS Kiwi debate, however our contact at the Country Women’s Association (CWA) of NSW, had this to say about the question: “There has been some conjecture around this, but when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter. This is a recipe that goes beyond patriotism. Its name represents the efforts of both Australian & New Zealand men and women who stood up to be counted when their respective nations needed them, and that’s as important today as it was all those years ago.”
Today , Anzac biscuits are manufactured for wide retail consumption. Thankfully these biscuits are nothing like the hardtack Anzac Wafer the soldiers had to endure. Popular in both New Zealand and Australia, the biscuits are made with a few main ingredients of rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter (or margarine), golden syrup, baking soda and occasionally, desiccated coconut. The CWA of NSW assured us that so simple is this recipe, anyone can whip up a batch to enjoy this Anzac Day. Their only tip was to not overcook them (especially if you prefer your Anzac biscuit chewy rather than crunchy), and to be sure to mix all the ingredients well.
What’s the CWA of NSW’s stance on the crunchy vs chewy Anzac biscuit? “Chewy or crunchy, it’s a personal preference, and a recipe that lends itself to both. That’s the beauty of this famous biscuit – it’s so versatile.”
When asked about the significance of the Anzac biscuit in today’s society, the CWA of NSW said “This is a recipe that has an indelible link to the history of our nation, inspired by the spirit and sacrifice of the original Anzacs. This little biscuit is something we can all be very proud of.”
With a ridiculous variety of cookies and biscuits on supermarket shelves, is the simple Anzac biscuit as popular today as it once was so many years ago? “I don’t think the popularity of the Anzac biscuit has ever waned. It’s not only their long and proud history that Australians hold dear, but also the fact they taste so good, and are so easy to make. Generations of Australians have grown up eating them, and I don’t think that will ever change.” Let’s hope the CWA of NSW is right and this sweet little treat continues to mark the very special occasion that is Anzac Day.