Book Review: Anzac Biscuits, by Allison Reynolds

A fascinating culinary history of one of Australia’s iconic foods, taking us around Australia, New Zealand and England, through recipe books, family treasures, letters to and from soldiers in WWI, photographs and anecdotes to discover the origins of our iconic Anzac biscuit.

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Allison Reynolds was, and still is, a cooking teacher. She gained a Masters in Gastronomy from Adelaide University. You may have heard her on local ABC radio or read one of her articles in local papers. In this book she embarks on a fascinating journey to discover the origins of the much loved Anzac biscuit. Her travels took her around Australia, New Zealand and England researching recipe books, both commercial and family treasures, letters to and from soldiers in WWI, photographs and anecdotes to discover the origins of the famous biscuit.

Families at home wanted to do what they could to help the troops in WWI and one way was to send comfort parcels. These might include clothing, especially socks, cigarettes, magazines and of course, food from home. Reynolds writes that, although biscuits were certainly sent to the troops, often in 5lb golden syrup tins, they were not known as Anzac biscuits.

The earliest reference to Anzac biscuits Reynolds found was in The War Chest Cookery Book, produced in 1917 by the Sydney War Chest Fund. But this recipe was nothing like today’s Anzac biscuits; it was missing oats, golden syrup and coconut but contained eggs and spices. The author speculates on the possible forerunners of the Anzac biscuit with Scottish oatcakes, British flapjacks, ginger biscuits, and parkin (a ginger cake with oats and treacle served on Guy Fawkes Night in northern England) all possibly contributing.

A further crucial question for the author was when did coconut become an integral part of the Anzac biscuit we know and love today? Research indicates that although coconut was readily available in Australia much earlier, coconut did not become an established ingredient until 1924. Up to the 1930s both recipes with and without coconut were published but by WWII it had become an established ingredient. There is, of course, another vital question which Reynolds raises: Crispy versus Chewy. She provides recipes for both so we can make up our own minds.

The connection between Anzac biscuits and WWI has been maintained over the years. Next door to where Allison Reynolds went to school in Sutton Veny, Wiltshire is a war cemetery with 168 war dead from WWI, 143 of whom are Australian. Each year on Anzac Day the school children place flowers on the graves. On the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli the author worked with Bridgewater Primary school in the Adelaide Hills to send tins of Anzac biscuits to the English school as part of the commemoration.

This is a fascinating culinary history of one of Australia’s iconic foods.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  8

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: July 2018
RRP: $24.95

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