The month of June brings us joy: with summer swinging in, blooms, vacations, and family. It’s also a perfect time to dwell upon a huge date for black folks in the United States. June 19, or “Juneteenth” a day to go on record that all enslaved Africans were indeed free from bondage of their oppressor. It’s also a reminder that the fight isn’t over because those in power may say so, it’s over when those who aren’t free feel the equity and equality that people, like me, fight for every day we live. Now we have context, let’s dive into why this has anything to do with food, shall we? Short answer, it has everything to do with food! Enslaved Africans didn’t have the luxuries of going to the market to make 5-course meals, so the creative nature had to be reawakened. Although we still enjoy many dishes from this period in time, we’re here today to discuss one that may have been lost in history – tea cakes.
A Cookie With Historical Significance
Meet Dr. Monica “Polly” Smith, preserver of a southern treat called tea cakes and founder of Polly Ann’s Tea Cakes. She isn’t the creator, as this recipe was passed down from her family dated back all the way to the early 1800’s and it takes many different forms from family to family. “My grandmother gave the recipe to me.” She says Since her grandmother’s passing she has kept the integrity of the family recipe for over 30 years.
“My prayer for these tea cakes is that people feel the connection of their ancestors.” When she describes the importance of tea cakes, she emphasizes the resiliency of black women and resourcefulness. You can only imagine the tragedy of slavery and these enslaved human beings trying to bring a small bit of light for their families. She says this southern delicacy was becoming a lost culinary art. “I talked with a food historian and even he couldn’t find much on tea cakes.” She saw the opportunity to tell the story many couldn’t or forgotten.
When I asked her about the future of tea cakes, she responded, “I want them to be as popular and common as cupcakes.” She visualizes tea cakes being the semi-sweet treat for your eating pleasure. Her goal is to initiate more documentation and research around the delicious treat so people can discover (or remember) the delicacy. Tea cakes have the texture of a biscuit made from scratch and are the size of a fat cookie. When you look at the tea cakes, you might see a thicker sugar cookie, but the taste is not as sweet as you’d expect.
When you eat food, try to think about the historical context it brings. In the beautiful city of Nashville, we have cultural food that shines light at certain times of history for different ethnicities. I encourage you to go deeper into the food that your family likes to prepare and the significance behind it. The beauty of food is the fact that it’s a direct response to regions’ resources, emotions and historical moments. I challenge you to try a piece of history. If you’re in the Nashville area, you can find these treats at The Local Distro in Salemtown, or if you can’t make it there, they ship! The mission of PollyAnn’s Tea Cakes to share the joy tea cakes have brought to generations of our family with yours. Thank you Dr. Monica for preserving such a sweet, southern tradition.
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