The smell of vanilla brings me back to my mother’s teacakes. It is a key ingredient in those tasty treats of hers and one of my favorite smells and fragrances. Years ago I asked my mother for her recipe and I stored it away in my files and titled it Miss. Vivian’s Tea Cakes; that must have been 12-15 years ago but I did not make the tea cakes until after her transition. The first batch was slightly off. I adjusted the vanilla the next time. I could hear Mama saying, you have to see how it works for you; My sister said it is almost there.
Teacakes or tea cakes is an old tradition in my maternal line. According to my research tea cakes originated in Great Britain but it has long been a southern favorite. My grandmother would serve tea cakes and sweet tea at summer quilting bees on the veranda of the “Old House” in rural Arkansas. Tea cakes are one of those things that are not one of a kind; everyone has their own version. Some are cookie-like, some are soft and chewy like a mini cake, some are small and others larger and flat. I have eaten many tea cakes. I have had them from bakeries, farmers markets, from vendors at events and at Afternoon teas. Maybe I am biased because nothing compares to Miss Vivian’s Tea Cakes.
In the early 1980s I discovered a little tea shop-café in East Oakland owned by Miss Della, one of the few African American tearooms/shops in the country. It was on Mac Arthur Boulevard off 73rd Avenue. She had a huge collection of teacups that patrons and people from around the country sent her displayed around her shop. Her tea cakes came close to Mom’s; they were delicious.
So, a few months later I made the teacakes again. This time when I bit down on the crispy edged, soft melt in your mouth with the hint of vanilla inside, I knew I had gotten it right. Hmm, I feel like I can make tea cakes today.
Miss Vivian’s Tea Cakes
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons milk
Cream sugar and butter; add egg, flour and next four ingredients. Bake at 375 degrees. Makes about 1 ½ dozen cookies depending on size of tea cake.