By Michelle Vollemaere
Known Unto God. This lonely epitaph, carved into thousands of unknown soldiers’ gravestones in Commonwealth cemeteries around the world, to me is even more heart-wrenching than the promise that “We will remember them”, delivered at Anzac services every year. I can only imagine the despair that families at home must have felt never knowing what became of the man they sent to battle.
Next Friday, April 25, is Anzac Day and thousands of New Zealanders will attend memorial services and congregate afterwards at local RSAs for a traditional Gunfire Breakfast.
A friend of mine, Dr Stephen Clarke, a military historian and former CEO of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association, reliably informs me that the Gunfire name is derived from a British military term for the first cup of tea given to the troops before they started their day.
He also tells me that the menu at RSA post-Dawn Service breakfasts includes lots of what he calls “hand food” (bigger and better than finger food) — sandwiches, scones, sausage rolls and suchlike that people can easily manage as they mingle — and, of course, “plenty of good old brewed tea and coffee laced with rum”.
A far cry from the “trench tucker” the soldiers at Gallipoli were expected to survive on. Consisting mainly of canned corned beef and brick-hard biscuits, their daily food rations also included 3oz cheese, 1/4lb jam, 3oz sugar and 5/8oz tea. It is no surprise then that researchers at Massey University and the University of Otago have found that these rations were very low in vital vitamins and minerals and, as a result, 90 per cent of the troops suffered from (and 200 died of) scurvy, dysentery, typhoid and night blindness, which could have been prevented if they had just been given canned fruit or vegetables.
This Anzac Day I’ll be serving that ultimate Kiwi “hand food”, the homemade sausage roll and, taking inspiration from the best and worst of the trench tucker rations, I will also make a tea-and-brandy infused boiled fruit cake. Sadly, it will be 99 years too late to save the Anzacs from scurvy, but it will keep those on the home front happy after Dawn Service.
Butchers pride themselves on their specially made sausages. Choose a flavour from their selection that appeals to you and transform them into some mighty fine sausage rolls that you can cook straight away or freeze for another occasion.
6 butchers sausages in any flavour – lamb, beef, pork, chicken or vegetarian
Condiment or sauce to compliment the flavour of the sausage e.g, chutney, mustard, pesto, tomato paste, cranberry sauce.
3 sheets ready rolled flaky puff pastry
¼ cup milk or 1 beaten egg for wash
Preheat oven to 220C and grease a baking tray.
Cut the square pastry sheets in half and set aside.
With a pair of kitchen scissors, carefully cut and peel the skin off the sausages. With your hands roll each sausage into a longer, thin roll and set aside.
Take a piece of pastry and spread your chosen condiment lengthwise down one edge of the pastry
Place one sausage on the top and carefully roll like sushi. Brush the last long edge of the roll with water and finish rolling to seal. Place the roll seam side down on the -greased oven tray.
Repeat until you have used all your sausages and pastry.
At this point you can wrap the sausage rolls in plastic wrap and freeze for later use or…
With a sharp knife lightly slash a criss-cross pattern down the length of each roll.
Cut rolls into bite-sized (or larger, if you prefer) pieces and brush liberally with milk or beaten egg.
Cook at 220C for 15 -20 minutes until golden brown, then turn off oven. Leave rolls in the oven for a further 5 minutes just to make sure sausage is properly cooked.
Turn out onto a plate and serve with tomato sauce.
English Breakfast tea boiled fruit cake
Boiling the fruit in a double strength cup of tea intensifies the flavour of this moist cake. So does the slug of brandy added to the mix before baking. This recipe has been in my family for decades, which is why the measurements are still in ounces, not grams.
2 teabags or teaspoons of black tea – English Breakfast or similar
400gm pack dried fruit mix
½ cup dried cranberries
8oz butter cut into cubes
Generous slug of brandy or rum, or 2 tsps of vanilla or almond essence
1 tsp baking powder
Heat oven to 180C.
Make a double-strength cup of black tea using two teabags in one cup.
Liberally grease a 10-inch square cake tin with butter.
Strain the tea into a large pot and discard the teabags or tea leaves.
Add the 400gm pack of fruit mix and the cranberries. Add extra water to just cover the fruit and boil gently for 5 minutes.
Strain off the liquid and add the cubes of butter to the warm fruit. Stir until the butter has melted completely.
Add the sugar and keep stirring until it has dissolved.
Add brandy, rum or essence and stir.
At this stage the mixture should be cool enough for the eggs and flour. Break in one egg and mix to incorporate then stir in a third of the flour.
Repeat again adding flour between second and third eggs, mixing well after each addition
Pour the cake mix into the tin and bake for approx one hour at 180C. Test at 50 minutes.
Leave to cool thoroughly in tin before cutting.