Try this tea cakes and strawberry marmalade recipe for a tasty slice of Black history

Although Juneteenth has passed, it is crucial we continue to recognize this important point in history throughout the year. As mentioned in my last recipe, Texas has been celebrating Juneteenth for some time, and at many of those celebrations you can find tea cakes. Enslaved people made tea cakes for their enslavers, as a welcome treat for guests, after returning from a long day’s journey, or just as a nice snack. Many decades later, you can find tea cakes in many African and soul food spots in Houston.

Seven years ago, while cleaning out my grandmother’s home, I found a tin box. Inside were letters from my grandfather in World War I and scraps of paper scribbled with decades-old notes and recipes — rabbit and okra soup was apparently a family favorite. Eventually, I stumbled upon my great-great-grandmother’s tea cake recipe. Her recipe called for simpler ingredients than they do today as it was more than 100 years old. Rather than butter and sugar, she used lard and molasses, for example. Her recipe was scribbled with notes: “Good with fruit preserves,” “for Master, No Lemon,” ”Extra spice for Jimmie.” As was common for the time, there were no real “instructions,” just weights and “pinches.”

It wasn’t until I found this recipe that I started trying to make my own tea cakes. I enjoyed trying to interpret my great-great-grandmother’s instructions. How does using modern things like butter change the recipe? What did hers taste like? 

What I arrived at made me happy. It was perfectly spiced, and went very well with coffee. For this recipe, I used an updated version of my great-great-grandmother’s recipe. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you find lard! Good old butter will do just fine. Taking a page out of my ancestor’s book, I’m pairing this with strawberry marmalade. 

If you participated in a Juneteenth celebration last weekend, you may have noticed a lot of red food, particularly strawberries, which were a common crop picked by enslaved people (you can still see some of these berry fields in Louisiana and Texas). This is to pay homage to the original celebrations that sprung in Galveston: The red food and drinks symbolize the blood spilled by the enslaved people before us who were not alive to see this day. While the name may be the same, these tea cakes are more pillowy and cakelike than their English cousins. They are perfect with tea, coffee or by themselves.


Tea Cakes and Strawberry Marmalade 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 11-30 minutes 

Servings: 20-24 cookies


Tea cakes

  • 4 cups self-rising flour (or 4 cups of all-purpose flour and 4 teaspoons of baking powder) 
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar 
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • Lemon zest from 1 large lemon 
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract

Strawberry marmalade 

  • 32 ounces strawberries, green part removed, and roughly chopped. (I like a chunky jam, so I chop in half.)
  • 1½-2 cups white sugar
  • Zest from a lemon 
  • Juice from ½ orange 
  • Juice from one blood orange 

Tea cakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 
  2. Sift flour and nutmeg (and baking powder if using all-purpose flour) into a large bowl. In a second bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, milk, lemon zest and vanilla extract until smooth.
  3. Combine dry ingredients into wet using a rubber spatula. Work in small batches, fold until just combined. Be sure not to overwork. 
  4. The dough will be sticky; lightly flour your hands, pinch the dough and form a ball, then drop on prepared baking sheet and slightly flatten it.
  5. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until lightly browned.

Strawberry marmalade

  1. In large pot, add all ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula. 
  2. Place over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Smash chunks of strawberry, if you please, as they soften. 
  3. When marmalade can coat the back of a spoon, it’s done. Remove from heat, let cool and store in an airtight container. 

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