I never knew my grandmother on my mother’s side; she died before I was born. Mother’s stories about her made her sound like the taskmaster and moral guardian of the family, while Papa, Mother’s father, was fun-loving and mischievous. Both Mama and Papa worked hard on their small farm all their lives, raising five children. Mother used to say I had Mama’s hands, long-fingered and slim, while she had Papa’s bony, large-knuckled ones.
Mother learned to cook from Mama, as well as how to can and preserve vegetables and fruits, make jams and jellies, and generally make the most of what they were able to grow in their garden patch. Most of the recipes were in her head, and Mother did not write them down. When I was in high school I asked her for Mama’s tea cake recipe. They are simple, thin cookies, that are in fact good with a cup of tea. I struggled with these, because it helps to know how to handle biscuit dough without over-working it in order to make these cookies!
Mama’s Tea Cakes
2 1/4 cups sugar
about 2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup butter (or margarine, butter is better)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients and put them on the biscuit board or pastry sheet where you will roll out the cakes. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet ingredients there. Mix together until you have dough–don’t handle too much! Roll out thin and cut into round cookies (biscuit cutter or a glass works fine). Bake until lightly browned.
Optional: Add lemon zest or orange zest. Not authentic to the recipe or period, but a nice flavor.