Each year, I make ANZAC cookies in late April. As do many households in Australia and New Zealand.
25 April marks ANZAC Day remembrance celebrations. It is a solemn day in the Australian (and New Zealand) calendar, which marks the disastrous landing of allied soldiers on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. It often strikes me as weird that Australia uses a failed military manoeuver as a source of national pride, but the significance is that it marked the first time that the fledgling nation was called to battle. And the values — of honesty, courage, mateship and more — are what we still celebrate today.
I didn’t to go the dawn service today. Now that we have young children getting up before dawn and getting the troops marshalled is a bit hard. But as we watched some television footage, I had a conversation with Taiwanxifu Preschooler about the meaning of ANZAC Day. “Many soldiers died,” I said “and today we remember their bravery.” “Died?” he said looking upset and a bit confused. “Your Grandpa’s Dad died, too,” I added, and at this he almost started to cry. “I miss Grandpa”, he said. So we gave Grandpa a call, and after a quick chat went back to drinking his ovaltine and eating breakfast.
Usually we try to spend ANZAC Day together with my Dad. ANZAC Day has special meaning for us as a family, because it is a time to reflect on personal loss. My paternal grandfather left his wife, three kids, a farm and a baby to go and fight against the invading Japanese in Papua New Guinea during World War II. He never returned, passing away shortly after arriving in Port Moresby in an allied air tragedy — he didn’t even get to participate in any battles. My grandmother was left to manage without him, and my Dad (with whom she was pregnant) was born never knowing his father. Such is the tragedy, and futility, of war.
During World War I, Australian (and New Zealand) women often sent care packages overseas to serving soldiers. Because the packages would often spend a long time in sea transit, a popular addition was a type of hard biscuit made with oats and golden syrup. Since it didn’t contain eggs, it kept well even after the long voyages. They are now known as ANZAC biscuits.
Golden syrup is next to impossible to find in Asia. It is kind of like honey, but has a distinctive taste, sugary taste that is not easily replicated. So I often make these biscuits instead, which utilise oats and brown sugar, but are peppered with Chinese Five Spice powder. They are not the same as the original, but they capture the same spirit. And the ingredients are much easier to find in a Taipei supermarket.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups plain (medium) flour
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
225 g (1 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 170C.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.
4. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and mix to combine.
5. Drop spoonfuls onto trays lined with baking paper. The biscuits will spread, so allow enough room for this.
6. Bake for around 12 to 15 minutes; the longer you bake, the crisper they will be. I like mine quite soft, but this is a personal preference. Traditional ANZAC biscuits are hard.
7. Allow to cool before removing with a slotted spoon. The biscuits will be soft so try not to pick them up before they have hardened.