Well, let me say it the best way I know how…. Tea Cakes that are made just right are good enough to make you want to slap your mama. The delectable pastries might be described as a cross between a scone, a biscuit and a sugar cookie. They are rarely sweet enough to compete with whatever sweet drink you might be drinking. I first fell in love with Tea Cakes, not from my mother who I still consider the world’s best cook, but from our neighbor who lived one soybean field away; the unforgettable `Miss Oldie Lee.’ While that is the name all of us Kearney children, and the rest of the people on Varner Road, knew her by; the unforgettable, and very married woman’s real name was Mrs. Oldie Lee Land.
Miss Oldie Lee was the first 6-foot woman I’d ever seen. In fact, she was actually nearer 6 feet, 5 inches. Her husband was most certainly 7 feet, and her two children – Henry and Marie, were very near 7 feet, as well. Miss Oldie Lee was unusual in many ways, not the least being her ability to scare the Be’Jesus out of the Kearney children by threatening to cut off our toes and put them in her apron pocket if we didn’t begin to wear shoes. Amazing, that our neighbor who was something like a surrogate mother at many times, didn’t realize that our one pair of shoes could only be divided between church and school.
I don’t recall Tea Cakes ever being something my mother or other women brought to church on those Sunday evenings when they created amazingly delicious meals to serve to visitors after church services. And, Miss Oldie Lee, God bless her soul; had no other dish that I’m able to recall right off the bat. But, our neighbor’s Tea Cakes were absolutely to die for. My siblings and I often found weak, even silly excuses to visit the Land home, in hopes of being offered some of those scrumptious Tea Cakes.
So, you’re asking… how do you make these delicious but oh-so simple pastries? Well, I’m so glad you asked. If you follow these very simple directions, you are guaranteed a southern creation that you will never, ever forget. Here goes:
Simple Southern Tea Cakes
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking power
2 cups sugar
½ cup buttermilk
½ pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl sift flour, baking soda and baking powder together. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Dough should be soft. Roll dough out onto a floured surface until approximately ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into desired shapes and bake on a slightly greased sheet for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes three dozen Tea Cakes.
Of course, if anything goes wrong, and your Tea Cakes end up tasting nothing like mine; it might be something as simple as the way you fix your mouth as you roll your dough, or the tune you whistle as you push the tray of Tea Cake dough into the oven…or, any number of things that only a southerner with a history of these things might know instinctively…oh, by the way, don’t forget the book!!
Janis F. Kearney is a native of Gould, Arkansas, and grew up as one of 19 children of cotton sharecroppers. In 1987, she went to work for Daisy Bates as her managing editor at the historical Arkansas State Press, and in 1988, purchased the newspaper from the civil rights icon. In 1995, Kearney was appointed by President Bill Clinton as his Personal Diarist. Her role as chronicler of the President’s days, continued throughout his second term. She is founding publisher of Writing our World Publishing, LLC, and author of five books, including Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir, her first book; and the soon to be released Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, a biographical memoir featuring civil rights leader Daisy Gaston Bates. More about the author and her books, can be found at www.writingourworldpress.com