Monday, 19 July 2021

Some ANZAC biscuit history

Apparently we have yet another trans-Tasman rivalry in antipodean cookbooks: that of who created ANZAC biscuits. Crikey. Funnily enough, until I read about the rivalry for founding, I don't think I had actually stopped to think that Anzac biscuits were an antipodean thing, or that the ownership was contested. In fact, the name itself says quite a lot about the founders: Australia New Zealand Army Corps. Job done, let's go home.

But no. It is not that simple.

First of all, the biscuit does not appear to have been made by the ANZACs themselves. Provisions for the Dardanelles campaign were limited, and food needed to keep in the heat. Hard tack was called "ANZAC biscuits" (Tan, 2016, p. 4). War ration "bullet-proof" Anzac biscuits were - along with bully beef - loathed, joked about, and put to more appropriate imaginary use, such as "the Bully Beef made excellent [r]oads and the [b]iscuits made excellent fires" (Tan, 2016, p. 6).

Emerita Professor in food history, Helen Leach, is reported as saying that the sweet and edible ANZAC recipe arose prior to World War 1, probably as a rolled oat 'crispie' (Cobley, 2016), undergoing a number of recipe changes through spontaneous "social invention" (Cobley, 2016, p. 64, citing Australian food historian, Michael Symons) before its - possibly - first appearance in a cookery book published post WW1 in Dunedin in 1919 (Cobley, 2016, citing Professor Leach).These are the Anzac biscuits as we now know them, which use golden syrup rather than eggs as a binder, and bi-carbonate of soda (Cobley, 2016).

This is largely echoed by Sian Supski (2006), however, she is firm that Anzac biscuits are an Australian creation. She proposes that ANZAC biscuits origin story is "that women in Australia created the recipe. It is this cultural narrative that has gained permanence in the public memory" (Supski, 2006, p. 53).

It also appears that Australians may have more attachment to the Anzac biscuit recipe than New Zealanders. It seems that the biscuit is a patriotic consumption memorial to commemorate Anzac Day and, like communion, by the eating, "one 'belongs' in and to the Australian nation" (Supski, 2006, p. 55; Cobley, 2016. p. 63). Further, it appears that in Australia, Returned Services League (RSL) sells Anzac biscuits commercially (Cobley, 2016). However, apparently this happens in Aotearoa as well (Cobley, 2016), which is not something I have experienced. I remain unsure of whether this is a fundraiser in Aotearoa.

Hopefully someone will find a published recipe which uses Anzac biscuit ingredients, or the name, prior to 1919, which will settle the ownership, and the antipodean women's role in the making of something unique to this end of the world.

This provides us all with an excuse to quietly review Great Aunt Daisy's stash of Women's Institute pamphlets.



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