A Sweet Memory, Teacakes in History

Light and buttery, a delightful cookie with rich vanilla flavor and a hint of fresh nutmeg dusted with confectioner sugar. Crisp on the edges and soft in the center. Named for Lura’s mom Mary Lee Daniels who was affectionately called Madear.”

 

While Lura’s generation did not enjoy Madear’s Teacakes, once she started baking them, her nieces told their stories of how their Madear would bake them for them to enjoy. What a surprise!


Steeped in African American Black history and culture, Teacakes in America date back over 200 years ago prepared by slaves in the southeastern United States; Plantation cooks made Teacakes a specialty for guests of white plantation owners. In particular, the women for their tea parties. Teacakes first came to the British colonies as a sweet cookie and cake served with “High Tea” later in the day, similar to those dating back to England and other varieties in many other countries.


The Teacake tradition carried through the 1800s in regions influenced by Scots-Irish and British backgrounds. However, the standard recipe became more simplified. Although plantation cooks created this “sweet cookie” served with tea, it was not “slave food” as slaves did not have access to white flour. Note: The cooks would hide cookies to slip to their families at their own risk as a matter of record. However, over time Teacakes have become inextricably linked to southern African American culture. More than a food or dessert, but an experience leaving fond imprints of love, belonging, and remembrance.


The essential ingredients of the first Teacakes were – white flour, eggs, milk, vanilla, molasses. Refined sugar came later. But these were all inexpensive ingredients, household staples that made Teacake available for all families to enjoy every day and for special occasions.


Teacakes have a very distinct flavor. Some say they taste like sugar cookies with spices. Others say they remind the of buttery shortbread butter cookies with a cakey consistency; some even say sweet cornbread in a cookie or biscuit form. Some cooks roll them out and cut them with cookie cutters; usually, you can find them in holiday shapes with royal frosting. Others hand roll and press them onto the cookie sheet. I prefer to use a cookie scoop and dust with powder sugar. Over time, cooks added unique ingredients, such as grated lemon rind, flavorings, and various spices.


During the great migration after emancipation, Blacks left the South eager to escape the worst of their experience behind them. However, the tradition of Teacake traveled and became a staple. Almost everyone with a Southern heritage had a family member that made the “best” Teacakes. So the tradition continued. However, it is in jeopardy of being forgotten. Which is one reason Lura’s Kitchen is offeringTeacakes today.


This cookie became the delight and loving, treasured delicacy of the African American community. Finally, a positive icon survives the horrors of slavery, replacing some of the bad memories with love. You cannot eat one of Madear’s Old Fashion Teacakes and not feel loved. That is how Madear made everyone. Loved! Lura keeps that tradition going today!

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