I could always sniff out my mother's tea cakes | Food & Drink Feature | Chicago Reader

I could always sniff out my mother's tea cakes 

Until now.

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Rose Doyle has tried for years to replicate her mother's tea cakes.

Rose Doyle has tried for years to replicate her mother's tea cakes.

Eileen Meslar

I remember competing with my siblings for my mother's tea cakes. She made them from an old family recipe for a stove-top sweet biscuit.

Mom came here from Shaw, Mississippi. We lived on the west side, on Lexington near California. She was known in our neighborhood as Muddear. Everyone in the community lived day by day, but since no one had more than anyone else, there was no jealousy. I didn't realize until later in life that we were considered poor.

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When there was money left over after the bills were paid, mom bought extra sugar, butter, and flour. She made the tea cakes in a big cast-iron pan that would almost take over the whole stove. She put a roasting-pan lid over them. We would come home from school and I would smell that she had made tea cakes, with either lemon, vanilla, or orange.

She would give them to us for various good deeds we would do without being asked, or if we got a good report from school. She also used them to cheer a person up if they were disappointed.

She would put them in shoe boxes lined with aluminum foil and hide them all over the house so we wouldn't eat them all in a few days. I would find them no matter where she hid them—I could sniff them out when she wasn't home. My sisters and brothers would ask me to find them.

One year my brother Jerry said that I was like a bloodhound with the tea cakes. I was so hurt to be compared to a dog that I never looked for them again for any of my siblings.

After the passing of my mom, I tried to get the recipe. All the family members I asked said I should speak with my mother's oldest sister. But she was suffering from dementia and lived in Gary, and you had to catch her on a good day for her to tell you anything. She passed before I got a good day. My regret is I missed the opportunity to pass this tradition and recipe down. I've tried making them, but it's hard to do it on the stove and have them come out as good as hers.

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