‘Jam packed with love’: the story of the Anzac biscuit

Young digger Paul Teesdale Smith wrote to his girlfriend from Gallipoli, describing care packages filled with biscuits, peanuts, butterscotch, cigarettes and socks.

“It’s wonderful how little things, no matter what they are, break the monotony,” Private Teesdale Smith said in the 1915 letter.

In another note, the soldier described a memorable meal of chicken, ham paste and raspberry jam, eaten with biscuits sent from family in the Adelaide Hills.

Soldiers’ stories and family recipes handed down through generations form part of the history of the Anzac biscuit, a staple for Australians and New Zealanders during April commemorations.

Culinary historian Allison Reynolds is an authority on the Anzac, having written a book that explores the origins and meaning behind the beloved oat-filled treat.

The Anzac biscuit likely evolved from pantry staple recipes like oatcakes, British flapjacks, gingerbread and Scottish parlies, Ms Reynolds said.

An early iteration was first included in the Australian War Chest Cookery Book in 1917, while the ingredients and method used today were published in a New Zealand cookbook in 1919.

It’s likely the recipe was developed in both countries at the same time, when cooks used golden syrup as a binding agent amid an egg shortage sparked by farmers going to war.

The resulting recipe also meant the biscuits stayed fresh in care package tins.

Ms Reynolds said sending food was a comfort to both those at war and at home.

“From grandma to a little child, everyone could be part of a thing that was connecting you to the young son, or whoever had gone off to the war,” she told AAP.

“So that tin was jam-packed full of love.”

There was debate among historians about whether soldiers receiving packages of treats was a romantic myth, but letters like those from Private Teesdale Smith make reference to sweet homemade biscuits.

A 1918 advertisement in a regional Victorian newspaper also appeals for empty treacle and golden syrup tins in which to send biscuits – “the sweets our boys long for”.

More than a century on, the Anzac biscuit continues to soothe on a day of remembrance.

Ellice Schrader from the NSW Country Women’s Association has made several batches to serve with tea and coffee at the Anzac march in Cessnock on Thursday.

“They’re part of us, aren’t they? They’re part of the Anzac story,” Ms Schrader told AAP.

“A lot of biscuits and cakes have their day, but the Anzac biscuit has history attached to it … and it’s something we’ll always have.”

The trick to a good Anzac is to cook them slowly in a 160C oven and cool separately on a rack, rather than stacking or overlapping, she said.

And to the eternal question: should an Anzac biscuit be chewy or crispy?

Ms Reynolds said it comes down to how your grandmother made it.

“It’s all about the memory.”


Stephanie Gardiner
(Australian Associated Press)


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