Early Sunday morning I lay in bed deliberating. The week’s dishes weren’t washed. No pots were clean. The kids wouldn’t do the washing up, mostly because they’re too short to operate the commercial sized sink. Goes to Eleven, the taller of the two, might have managed it, but she’s away for the week at the national science fair. The burden of cooking mother’s-day-breakfast-in-bed fell to kid Number Two. She approached the task with gusto. I listened to her kitchen noises and worried about the open flame on the gas stove. The Gearhead lay beside me, feigning sleep.
Appearing in the kitchen a few moments later, I was astonished when Number Two frowned at me and said, “Go back to bed!!” I glanced at the stove; she was using the top half of my double boiler to boil some eggs. Genius! I didn’t know it doubled as a pot?! I gently insisted I handle the kettle and promised I’d return to bed once the tea was poured. It was easy to convince her I couldn’t see much out of my tired, stuck-shut, eyes.
Breakfast appeared on a tray not long afterwards, complete with a little vase of flowers. The Gearhead’s voice rose from beneath the covers like gravel being dragged across wet cement, “where’s my breakfast?!” “It’s not your day dad! It’s mother’s day!” She actually rolled her eyes. [Wife edits: that must be a genetic trait][Gearhead edits: it’s learned]. Number Two said, “I picked the flowers from Boodie’s garden.” [the Gearhead’s mom who lives in the house next door]. “ I don’t think she’ll mind.” [Wife edits: hmmm…]
To stave off my default cynicism re consumerism, I looked up the origin of Mother’s Day. It arose out of the desire to recognize mourning mothers whose soldier sons had died. The day was supposed to work for peace. It’s a sad but true reflection of our culture that the day has become so commercialized.
With that founding spirit, the recipe for these cookies dates back to World War 1. Australian and New Zealand mums baked and mailed them overseas to where their sons were fighting as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). They’re sort of like oatmeal cookies, but this version relies on golden syrup in place of egg as the binder in the recipe. Golden syrup is a thick form of inverted sugar, similar to molasses, but pale and toffee coloured with a milder taste. The omission of eggs kept the cost of baking to a minimum and the golden syrup preserved the cookies, often packed in tea tins, during the long voyage to the battlefields. Because of the war, many of the poultry farmers had joined the services; eggs became scarce and expensive. The cookies provided some nutrition and sustenance, but were valued more for their soul-filling expression of love that only home-baked goods can deliver.
The soldier’s biscuits [Wife edits: if you’re a Kiwi, like my mum, this is what you call a cookie] were renamed in honour of the landing of the ANZAC on the coast of Turkey, during the Gallipoli campaign, April 25, 1915. [Wife edits: if you ever want to see a fantastic film about that horrific point in history, and see Mel Gibson as a super, super, young actor, watch the film Gallipoli]. Today, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate ANZAC day (April 25th) much the same way Canadians do Remembrance Day (November 11th), though instead of wearing poppies, these cookies have become the compassionate symbol of the ANZAC legacy and spirit.
The cookies are super quick and easy to put together. Note that there is an unusual step of proofing the baking soda with boiling water before it’s added to the dry ingredients. This step affects the flavour by removing some of the metallic taste that baking soda can sometimes add. The cookies bake up slightly flatter as a result too. This recipe is more unusual with the addition of walnuts. It is adapted from, Gran’s Kitchen, by Natalie Oldfield.
Here’s a clip of me cocking up the recipe completely on television (the directions in the recipe below are more accurate) – this gave me a laugh when I watched it. I was in too much of a hurry as I had to get Goes to Eleven to the orthodontist before the cookies were done in the oven!
1 cup sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup butter
1 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees Celsius).
Grease a cookiet tray or line with baking paper.
In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
In a small saucepan over a medium heat (or in a microwave proof jug or bowl in the microwave), combine the butter and golden syrup until the butter has melted.
In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and baking soda.
Add the baking soda and water mixture to the melted butter and golden syrup. It will bubble up quite a bit as you stir it and become foamy.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly (add a little more water if the mixture is too dry – it will be crumbly but the you want the batter to just hold together in a ball). Dollop teaspoonfuls of the biscuit mixture onto the greased baking tray and flatten them slightly with the heel of your hand. Don’t forget that the biscuits WILL spread during baking, so make sure you leave room for them to spread!
Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from oven.
Allow the Anzac biscuits to cool on the tray – moving them will make a big mess otherwise.