Everything that I know of childhood comes from one tiny, rural town in Southwest Georgia. Thinking about it today, it seems almost like a fairytale. It was a place where children could roam around the neighborhood playing all day or get on their bikes and ride “uptown” without worry. There was practically no crime at all. People never locked their car doors and rarely locked their homes. It really was like growing up in the mythical town of Mayberry. Or maybe I’m just remembering it through a child’s eye. If that’s true, then I hope I never wake up to reality.
I’m not sure why, but there are simply certain smells and tastes that bring that childhood back vividly to my mind. I have so many memories that are tied to food – so many memories of people inextricably associated with certain foods. I can’t open a bottle of Tabasco sauce without thinking of how my Daddy loved it. I remember him drizzling it over a grilled steak and how he enjoyed the way it enhanced the flavor. I do the same thing on occasion and the mere smell of Tabasco mingling with the steak brings memories of him flooding into my mind.
My Uncle Clayton, a true Southern gentleman of the old order, was famous throughout our area for his barbecue sauce. I still use his recipe to this day and it’s the only one most of our family members ever want. No grocery store barbecue sauce for this family! His wife, my Aunt Bernice (pronounced BURR-niss in true Southern style) was one of the most fantastic Southern cooks I’ve ever known. When I think of Aunt Bernice I think of fried pies – apple and peach. I can see her hands holding the fork as she crimped the edges of the little pies and then slid them into the hot fat to fry. The smell of those pies could bring grown men in from the fields and barn.
My grandmother Polly, now 95 and still as sharp as ever, has slowed down in the kitchen but in her heyday she was well-known for many recipes, including her “old sorry” fruitcake. My Daddy loved Polly’s fruitcake and, in that manner peculiar to Southerners, always teased her asking for a slice of “that old sorry fruitcake” around Christmas time. Polly also made the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten. When our grandson, A, was just a toddler and before he could talk, we taught him “baby signs.” They’re just simple hand signs that help toddlers to communicate and relieve a lot of frustration for both them and parents. We went to Polly’s house one day when she had a pot roast cooking and as we walked in the backdoor we were flooded by the delicious smell of that wonderful roast. Polly started laughing and told us to look at what A was doing – he was making the baby sign for “want more” over and over! What a precious memory that is.
My other grandmother, whom we called Gama, well…she was a different story. In a huge family of fantastic cooks, she was, well…hmmm. Bless her heart, she just wasn’t born to be a cook. There were two things, though, that she did excel in making – fried chicken and biscuits. Although her biscuits weren’t the fluffy, flaky type everybody looks for these days, they were mighty tasty. After my Mama and Daddy got married, Mama taught Gama several recipes including a coconut cake that became very popular in the family. Late in life Gama learned how to make the muffin recipe from the back of the Raisin Bran box. She was so proud of those muffins that she took them all over town handing them out in offices at least once a week!
I’ve talked your ears off about some of the fantastic cooks in my family, but I’ve saved the very best for last – my Mama. Now I know that everybody thinks that their Mama is the best cook, but my Mama has all of them beat :-) Just a few of the things that pop into mind when I think of my Mama’s kitchen are the world’s best fried chicken, cornbread and fried okra. Light as a feather angel biscuits. Crispy, crunchy salmon croquettes. And, last but not least, the absolute best cornbread dressing ever made. Really. Not only is she a fabulous cook, she does it all with flair. Nothing ordinary. Nothing plain-jane. If it comes out of my Mama’s kitchen it not only tastes wonderful, it looks beautiful.
I saw a comment from another blogger a few days ago wondering why anyone would want to make a particular recipe because it was “so 1965.” I guess I view cooking a little differently from most. For me, the preparation of good food is a way of showing love. And making the old recipes honors our ancestors. Cooking is not always just the means to get a meal on the table so you can get on with something else. It’s about fellowship, too. A time to gather together and enjoy each other’s company. And if you have an old family recipe to enjoy, all the better.
These old-fashioned Southern teacakes are one of those old recipes. Anyone “of a certain age” who grew up in or near the place I did knows exactly what a teacake is. It’s not a cake, but it’s not quite a cookie either. It is certainly not overly sweet – just barely enough sugar to call it a dessert, actually. They’re delicious with a cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk. And, if you grew up in southwest Georgia, you can take one bite of a teacake and in your mind you’re five years old again.
2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
2 tblsp. buttermilk
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
Additional sugar for sprinkling
Cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, beating well. Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Now add the buttermilk and beat well again. Combine the flour and soda. Turn the mixer down to slow (or stir) speed and gradually add the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Stir in the vanilla.
Shape the dough into a round, cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
If you chill your dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling. Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds using a large biscuit cutter. Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets. It’s important that the dough is at least 1/4″ thick to give the teacakes a “cake-y” interior texture. Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.
Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow teacakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Makes about 2 ½ dozen.
An old-fashioned southern cookie - not too sweet and utterly delicious.
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 2 tblsp. buttermilk
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Additional sugar for sprinkling
- Cream the butter.
- Gradually add the sugar, beating well.
- Next, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Now add the buttermilk and beat well again.
- Combine the flour and soda.
- Turn the mixer down to slow (or stir) speed and gradually add the flour mixture into the creamed mixture.
- Stir in the vanilla.
- Shape the dough into a round, cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- If you chill your dough overnight, remove it from the fridge about 15 minutes before rolling.
- Working with 1/4 to 1/3 of the dough at a time, roll dough to 1/4” thickness on a lightly floured surface.
- Cut into rounds using a large biscuit cutter.
- Place the rounds 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets.
- It's important that the dough is at least 1/4" thick to give the teacakes a "cake-y" interior texture.
- Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar.
- Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned.
- Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow teacakes to cool for several minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
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