Friday, February 18, 2011


Internet picture

I saw a lady bring her Church Supper dish to the Fellowship Hall in a pillowslip once. They WERE on a plate, which was, indeed, slipped inside a clean white cotton pillowcase for bringing to the church. And when she set them down on the big table of desserts, a lovely sweet scent arose from that area of the table, from amongst the heavier aromas of the several chocolate cakes with Hershey’s Never-Fail Frosting, and the lovely cling of the fruit-scents from the line of pies, with just the tiniest burnt-sugar whiff from the several meringues atop the coconut and lemon pies and the proud peaks of Mrs. Pellum’s famous Banana Pudding.

Miss Lottie had brought TeaCakes. All one word---TEACAKES. The old-fashioned, tender, ingredients-in-every-kitchen, not-quite-a-cookie treat so prevalent in so many homes for decades. They’re a treat, again, nowadays, to those of us who were raised on them, and whose Mammaws kept a steady supply in cupboards and pie safes and in my case, the big old Hoosier Cabinet with the built-in-flour dispenser and the shelves on which resided the leftover biscuits from breakfast, the long, thin pan of cornbread, cut in the middle and stacked to fit on The Cornbread Plate, and the regal Pineapple Cake.

I don’t know what it was about that old sweet-scented cabinet that kept everything from drying out or spoiling. It must have been tight as Tupperware, for the cut surfaces of the cake and of the cornbread were always as soft as second slice. And the plate of TeaCakes!! They were a delight, like a soft, sweet biscuit---I’ve always imagined that they were the ORIGINAL Biscuits which gave British Cookies their name

They were sometimes made with lard, but most folks had their own butter, and then margarine made its appearance, to no unpleasant detriment to the recipe. Fortunate children of the later 1800s, through the War Years (when they were made with whatever sugar and butter-equivalent was available) and on through the Fifties---carried them to school in their lunchboxes and pails and brown paper pokes. A biscuit or two from breakfast, with whatever ham or bacon or leftover egg or just bacon grease sandwiched between, and then a Tea Cake or two---that was certainly not a balanced lunch, but filling and satisfying, with the two courses not-quite-the-same: salty, then sweet.

TeaCakes are the South’s Madeleines, I think.

Ina Garten's madeleines

Proust’s memories were not kindled half so keenly by those small sweet shells as ours are by the remembrance of one of those soft, bendy, slightly-sweet Southern confections, sometimes with a tiny sprinkle of sugar sparkling atop. I once saw a dozen ladies at a Sarah Coventry party in the Seventies rise up and scamper those pumps over to the refreshment table before the saleswoman even finished her spiel, because the hostess had unobtrusively started bringing in the food, and she’d set down a two-tiered stand of TeaCakes.

They’re that hypnotic, that mystical in the scheme of Southern taste-memory. Perhaps it’s a particular memory of another time, each individual person thinking of a Grandmother, an Aunt, a special treat, a familiar, comforting taste, a pretty party in the midst of such succeeding days of Plain Old Life.

I just know that TeaCakes evoke sweet memories, and not just of their taste. I had such an urge to write about them, in this thinking-of-Spring weather, though they’re right at home with a hot cup of something warming on a cold night, that I didn’t stop to make any---I tried to find suitable pictures on the internet, but few have the soft, pale, droopy-biscuit look of the REAL thing.

Internet picture

Oven 350

½ pound Butter
1 2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs

1/2 c. buttermilk
3 c. A/P Flour
½ t. soda
½ t. salt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
(opt.) a drop or two of lemon or almond flavor, but try them with the pure old-time Vanilla taste the first time.

Cream sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time, then buttermilk, vanilla and other flavorings.

Sift dry ingredients, and stir into wet. Flour counter and knead dough a few turns. Roll into a ball, flatten it a bit on the counter, wrap, and refrigerate until firm.

Roll out about between 1/4 and 1/3 of an inch thick, and cut with cookie cutter (round is the preferred, standard shape, and the teacakes won’t hold an intricate edge, for they spread as they bake). Leave an inch between.

Bake for 8-10 minutes for regular size, 6 for the smaller. They will be still rather pale. Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing to rack to cool completely.

Store in air-tight can or canister or Tupperware. There are those who SWEAR that Teacakes are best on the second day---we even had a taste-off once, with some baked at different times, and Miss Lucille unerringly picked the second-day ones every time. Must be like that “allow flavors to mellow” thing.

You CAN cut them out with a sharp-edged glass, like so many of our Grandmothers, or, like mine---a cannin'-jar ring for a big plate of the wide, droopy beauties which always resided in the depths of Mammaw’s cabinet, or with a snuff-can, for a dainty bite with tea. I suppose that’s where they started.

TEACAKES. A REAL Remembrance of Things Past.


Cape Coop said...

I love the exotic flavors and textures of the foods your Southern soul grew up on- everything sounds so exotic and delicious! I am going to buy the buttermilk AND butter next month and make a batch of these- Kiddle adores a sweet and buttery baked good and these sound like something that will definitely turn her head!

mustard seeds said...

I also grew up on teacakes. My aunt had a cook, Ella, who made the most delicious teacakes in the world. She probably didn't even have a recipe, but I can remember them coming out of the oven...oh the taste of them warm...I can remember it well. My aunt had Ella write the recipe down, and never tried them herself. I got the idea to try them as a teenager, and they turned out hard as bricks. In fact, as a joke, my Daddy drilled holes in them and made keychains out of a few. Ha Ha. Enjoyed your post, and I am saving your recipe.

racheld said...

Oh, Rebecca!! I'm honored that you're going to try the recipe---it's very plain, a very mild and gentle taste, like "nursery fare" I think, but it's a lovely remembrance of the old days and old ways of cooking and celebrating, or just having a quiet moment with our Grandmothers.

You could, with all your flair for spices and herbs, make some of the dough into exotic little morsels---cardamom or perhaps a mere breath of allspice or cinnamon. But DO make a few by the old tried-and-true, simple recipe---make a cup of tea and taste My Childhood Memories.

racheld said...


I'm still laughing at the Keychains!!! That is simply hilarious---though I'm sure you were not amused. What a memory to treasure!!

Sometimes these are WAY soft, like a slumpy biscuit.

biz said...

I have actually never has a tea cake before, but they look delicious!

Linda J. said...

This is a great post! Someplace, in my reading, I read that old-fashioned teacakes were to be stored in a clean pillowcase. When we think about it, there were no zip-loc bags or tupperware back then. I assume by storing in a clean pillowcase, the teacakes were to be kept away from insects, but not air-tight. Interesting.... I have saved,in my files, Paula Deen's Southern Tea Cakes recipe, similar but not exactly the same as your Teacakes. I will save your recipe and try it. Unlike my mother, I don't keep buttermilk in the refrigerator every day. Not good, for a girl raised in the south! *smile*

mississippi artist said...

I love teacakes and lemonade in the summer time. My mother had teacakes and milk for us after school in the afternoons- and we were still able to eat supper with no problem! I had to laugh at the ladies that don't keep buttermilk-I guess they don't know the old vinegar trick for making your own .

Patsy said...

Lovely Teacakes and I can just smell them.

Rebecca said...

I've never had teacakes-but I sure would love to try them! I can't cook worth a hoot-maybe I could get someone to make them for me! Thanks for sharing!

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

Oh I cannot wait to try out your recipe! I so loved your thoughts on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

If you are a dog lover please visit my Metis Linens blog as Andrea and I are having a dog themed giveaway.

Kim Shook said...

OOOOOoooohhhhh! TEACAKES! I haven't had a teacake in at least 30 years, probably more. Not since attending luncheons with my grandma in Reidsville NC. Church ladies luncheons, back when the ladies still made things from scratch. Delicate puffs filled with all-white-meat chicken salad, country ham on beaten biscuits, mile-high angelfood cakes with their own strawberry preserves and teacakes.

Nowadays, even in small town NC, you are more likely to get platters of KFC chicken tenders, deli ham on whomp biscuits and those dreadful, tasteless, pastel-dyed sugar cookies from the store.

You've stirred a delicious memory, my friend, and I've printed this recipe out and will try it soon!

Maggie McArthur said...

I'm sad I've no Proust-like memory of teacakes because, well, this Northern girl's never eaten one. Butter milk, eh? Hmmmmm.When i get back to my own kitchen I'm SO gonna make a batch.

"A clean pillowcase" -- three words of freakin' bliss.

Bev said...

Is the first picture the same thing as the last one?..first one needs jam I think. Noted the recipe and will make it soon.

Cape Coop said...

Well, Mississippi(is that Miss or Missis?)- we'd have to keep milk in the house in the first place!;)