Battle of the Anzac biscuit

Last updated 19:36 30/01/2014
Anzac biscuits
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As a patriotic nibble, Anzac biscuits are second to none. But for years New Zealand has had a better claim to the original recipe and name.

Now Australia might be able to take back the biscuit, or at least a few crumbs of national pride, after the discovery of a recipe published in a Melbourne newspaper in 1921.

Australian and New Zealand troops on Gallipoli in 1915 probably ate nothing resembling today's Anzac biscuit, that delicious combination of rolled oats, golden syrup, sugar, flour, desiccated coconut and melted butter. (They had to make do with the dreaded hard-tack "tiles" in their ration-packs.)

Until now, the first Australian-published recipe for a recognisable Anzac biscuit was credited to a 1923 edition of Mrs H W Shaw's Six Hundred Tested Recipes.

However, by picking through the National Library of Australia's Trove website - which contains digitised records of many Australian newspapers - AAP has found Melbourne's Argus newspaper printed a recipe for Anzac biscuits on July 6, 1921.

The recipe, supplied by a reader identified as "Caulfield" reads:

"Two breakfast-cupfuls John Bull oats, half-cupful sugar, one scant cupful plain flour, half-cupful melted butter. Mix one tablespoonful of golden syrup, 2 tablespoonfuls boiling water, and one teaspoonful of soda till they froth; then add the melted butter. Mix in dry ingredients, and drop in spoonfuls on a floured tray. Bake in a slow oven."

The recipe has the right name, ingredients and method to stake a claim as the earliest recorded true Anzac Biscuit recipe. (Desiccated coconut does not seem to have been included in any version until 1927.)

However, Dr Helen Leach, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Otago and the recognised authority on the Anzac biscuit, sounds a sobering note.

She points to a remarkably similar recipe - for Anzac Crispies - that was published in New Zealand in 1919 in the eighth edition of the St Andrew's Cookery Book.

Its ingredient quantities are double those of the newly-found Australian recipe, which makes Leach think "they're clearly related".

"I would say that yours may not be a copy of mine, but they may have the same ancestor."

Leach says feelings were "running so high" after the 1915 Gallipoli landing that Red Cross women on fundraising stalls back in New Zealand probably changed the name of the already existing "rolled oat crispies" to boost sales.

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"It's pretty clear that they just popped the name across, changed it to 'Anzac'," she says.

Leach does not shrink from controversy. Her 2008 book, The Pavlova Story, took on the fraught provenance of the pav.

The history of any recipe is difficult to pin down, Leach says: "You have concepts and people play around with their ingredients, their method to some extent, but also their names."

She expects that, as more old newspapers become available online, the Anzac biscuit's story will continue to evolve.



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