It was back in the 1970s when Llewellyn “Llew” Elford was looking through the Commonsense Cookbook that had belonged to his wife’s grandmother.
“In those days, every house had one of them,” his wife Karen said. “He looked through it, saw a recipe for Anzac biscuits, checked to see if he had the ingredients, and he was away.”
That recipe was the beginning of a lifelong passion the Canberra man had for making, baking, eating and gifting the iconic bikkies.
Llew, who passed away last year at age 94-and-a-half, was a legend according to those who knew him. And not just because he made the best Anzac biscuits – although that helped.
Karen, his second wife, described him as a “beautiful” man, and the proud father of eight, grandfather of 16 and great grandfather of 23.
It was in that role of grandfather that Llew managed to make his Anzacs go global.
His granddaughter was serving in the Middle East with the Navy and sent word to Llew that she wanted some of his Anzac biscuits – for herself and the rest of her crew aboard their ship. He was “chuffed” that she’d asked and immediately set out to make it happen. Turns out there were 300 aboard her ship – so he made 300 biscuits, packed them up and the Navy made the delivery for him.
His grandson-in-law, who was serving in Iraq, was also treated to a sweet parcel from home, albeit slightly smaller – 15 Anzac biscuits because that’s how many were serving with him.
Born in 1927 at The Hatch at Telegraph Point on the NSW North Coast, Llew grew up on a Port Macquarie dairy farm during World War II, and learned early how to “make do”. He left school at 14 and ended up in Canberra in 1974 to work on the railway.
Before that, he’d done most every other job that was going and was never out of work. Those jobs included farmer, greenkeeper, bus driver, picture theatre proprietor, milkman and fireman on the railways. In Canberra, he worked at both Old and New Parliament House, including boilerman at the old and air conditioning mechanic at the new.
He was the sort of bloke, Karen said, who simply taught himself everything he needed to know and could turn his hand to anything. The only thing he wasn’t good at was remembering people’s names.
“He called all the boys George,” she said. “You know how some people call everyone ‘mate’, well, he called them George.”
When he turned 65, Llew had to retire from Parliament House, but it was short-lived. Not one to stay idle, he started, at retirement age, to drive taxis.
“He told me he didn’t like driving at night so he ended up giving it away – when he was 82,” Karen said. “He was the oldest taxi driver ever in Canberra.”
Karen said her husband never stopped making Anzac biscuits, pretty much for anyone who asked. He didn’t have a recipe beyond that first direction from the Commonsense book, he just chucked various ingredients in, never measured anything and always used the same spoon and bowl.
“And he always made two batches,” she said. “I guess it was a Depression thing, you always made extra because you didn’t know when you’d get more.”
He rarely got it wrong, too. Except, said Karen, the day when he placed the biscuit dough a little too close together on the baking paper – and they joined forces.
“He tended to make them when he got bored,” she said. “Even though he made the two batches every time, he used to complain that he made them and I gave them away. My job was to buy the ingredients, but he always did the cooking. I made them a few times, but they were never a patch on his. Anyone who has eaten his knows he had a patent on them.
“He could cook a few other things but he wouldn’t have won any prizes for them, certainly not for the way they looked,” she laughed.
Although he we was basically a meat-and-two-veg sort of cook, having lived through the Depression, Karen said sometimes it was just the two veg.
Llew’s Anzacs reached all over the world – and Australia All Over. After hearing Ian “Macca” McNamara talk about Anzac biscuits on his Sunday morning ABC Radio program, Llew sent him a batch. He (“Macca”), Karen said, was “suitably impressed”.
Late, baking news: did Llew prefer his Anzacs to be chewy or crunchy? “Crunchy,” Karen said, “unless he made a mistake.
“Everyone preferred the crunchy ones because they were so perfect for dunking. And they always had to be eaten with tea not coffee.”