Well, I’ve done five excerpts from the book, so I thought it might be time for a “detour.” Aside from travel, one of my great interests is food — primarily food history and food as it relates to culture. If you click on the link to Hungry Magazine, at right, you can see a lot of my stuff under food history and travel. But I thought that here I’d share a little foodie insight into Australia, along with a recipe for a classic Australian food item — Anzac biscuits.
“Biscuit” is Australian (and British) for what Americans call a cookie. Anzac (or, more properly, ANZAC) is an acronym for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. The corps, which served with distinction in World War I, is probably best known for its heroic service during the bloody Gallipoli Peninsula campaign. (A glimpse of this ill-fated campaign can be had in the wonderful, devastating Australian movie Gallipoli, which stars a very young Mel Gibson.) Though the fighting was vicious and very costly for the ANZACs, the Turks came to admire the heroism and high spirits of the corps, and called them the New Spartans.
The ANZAC infantry units were then sent on to France, where they participated in some of the most brutal battles of the war. Because Britain, at the time, had a pretty low opinion of the inhabitants of the antipodes (all those transported criminals, you know), they tended to think of them as cannon fodder, and as a result, Australia and New Zealand (still considered a single political unit at the time) had the highest casualty rate of any country in the war—69 percent. The ANZAC cavalry units were sent to the Middle East, and their heroic and astonishing feats can be relished in the Australian movie The Light Horsemen. (This movie is a lot less grim than Gallipoli, especially since the ANZACs won their battle in the Middle East. And it’s great if you love horses.)
When Australian and New Zealand forces were separated in 1917, ANZAC ceased to be an official designation, but the name lives on in ANZAC Day—April 25, the date of the Gallipoli landing—when both Australia and New Zealand commemorate the dead of the two World Wars.
So, what, you may be wondering, do all these soldiers and horsemen and horrible battles have to do with cookies? Well, as with the US’s involvement in the World Wars, people back home got involved, too. This consisted of everything from Victory Gardens to women working in munitions and aviation to simply giving up a lot of luxuries so that the soldiers could be supplied. Tales of the origins of ANZAC biscuits, which were developed based on an old Scottish oat cookie recipe, range from making foods that didn’t use luxurious ingredients, such as eggs, to developing something tasty that could easily be shipped to soldiers. Whatever the real story is, there is no doubt that their purpose was to honor the brave Australian soldiers and horsemen of World War I.
These are such incredibly delicious, luxuriously rich cookies, you’ll have trouble believing that they represent a time of hardship and privation.
One note regarding measurements: I got this recipe in Australia, which means that it used a mix of British Imperial measure and European metric. I’ve translated it into American standard measure, but thought you’d wonder why some measures are a little inexact. For example, one cup Imperial is 10 ounces, while in American it’s 8 ounces, and tablespoons are the tiniest bit bigger in Imperial measure. However, being off one way or the other by a couple of shreds of coconut or drops of golden syrup won’t really make a difference.
Anyway, these are among the most delicious cookies on earth. Enjoy.
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
1-1/4 cups plain flour
1-1/4 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup shredded coconut (or a pinch less)
one stick butter (125 grams, to be exact, so a smidge more than one stick, really)
2 slightly overflowing Tbs. Lyle’s Golden Syrup (available in the baking section of most stores)
1 tsp. baking soda
3 Tbs. boiling water
Combine oats, flour, sugar, and coconut, blending thoroughly. In a small saucepan, combine butter with golden syrup, melt over low heat, and remove from heat. Add baking soda to the boiling water, then add this to the butter/syrup mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the liquid. Mix thoroughly.
Drop mixture by the tablespoonful on to a greased cookie sheet, approximately 3 inches apart, to allow for spreading. Bake at 300-310 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 17 minutes. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 36 cookies.