Mama Reed’s Southern Tea Cakes


If you’ve never had a southern tea cake, they are rather difficult to describe. I can assure you though, despite appearances, it is nothing like a cookie. This tender little cake is soft and pillowy, with just a touch of sweetness. A very simple and comforting flavor, they are generally only iced for company or special occasions, at other times getting only a light sprinkling of sugar as they come out of the oven.

These tea cakes are something I dearly love to bake. One of the main reasons (despite the flavor and texture and…well everything else that is wonderful about these!) is that I have issues with sugar and therefore can’t really eat most of the yummy desserts I make for Southern Plate. These tea cakes don’t bother me, though, as they are not loaded down with sugar and super sweet taste as most cookies are. They are the perfect treat with an afternoon cup of coffee or as a snack. If you are expecting something really sweet, you’ll want to plan on icing.

Mama Reed (Adle Reed was her given name) made these on a regular basis and the day she made them her kids (all ten of them) were allowed to eat as many as they wanted as they were coming warm out of the oven (can you imagine the thrill of that?). After they cooled the would be placed in a large glass jar with a screw on lid and the children had to come ask permission before they got one, so they wouldn’t ruin their supper.

If you don’t have self rising flour, a substitution is listed at the bottom. :)
>Cream sugar and butter.
Until it looks like this. Now add your eggs and mix well.
Dump in all of your flour and mix again.
Pour in vanilla and mix until its blended in well.
Turn your dough out onto a floured surface. I like to line my countertop with waxed paper and flour that so all I have to do is fold up the waxed paper and there is no mess left behind.
Flour it really well so your dough doesn’t stick after you roll it out.
Sprinkle flour on the top of your dough so it won’t stick to your hands or rolling pin.
I pat mine out a bit before I roll it. I always try to be loving and delicate with these tea cakes. I don’t know if that’s because they require it or because of all of the wonderful stories I can’t help but think about as I roll them out and cut them. Whenever I make them, its as if there is a direct link between myself and those who have made them before me. I know I am sounding a bit on the looney side right now, but these tea cakes just represent a lot to me.
Its very important when you make old family recipes like this, that you tell your kids all of the stories behind them to your children. Even if its something simple like “Your grandaddy used to love these”, make sure they know. To young kids, this is a sort of “living history” that helps them to identify with their roots and ancestors. To be able to bite into the same kind of cookie or cake or pie that their great great grandfather used to beg for when he was a boy, now thats something that sticks in a child’s memory.
Don’t just tell them the story one time, either. Tell them each and every time you bake that particular item. Even today, whenever I smell fresh green beans, I remember stringing them as a child on my front porch with Mama while she told me the story of how she used to sit on Mama Reed’s front porch and string beans with her and how much she enjoyed that time they shared.


I’ll never be able to bake a cake without thinking about the story of the seven cakes on Christmas Eve when my grandmother was a girl. I hope you all have such great memories attached to your recipes. If not, why not start them now?
Roll them out with the rolling pin that your great grandmother bought for your mother with green stamps when she was thirteen years old.
another rolling pin if you don’t have one with that story attached to it.


Did I ever tell y’all the story about my great grandmother’s rolling pin? Not this one that she bought but the one she actually used? It was made of wood and had red handles. After my great grandmother passed away, both my mother and her sister really wanted that rolling pin. Imagine how much it meant to Mama when my Grandmother gave it to her. She cherished that rolling pin.
A few years went by and her sister happened to mention using”granny’s rolling pin” in conversation. Of course my mother was confused as she explained that she had the rolling pin which belonged to their grandmother. At the end of the conversation, both sisters were still quite certain that they had each been given the one of a kind rolling pin.
Oh well, I guess that’s one way to do it.
Spray your baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Cut out your cookies. I like to use a round cookie cutter with a bit of a frill but sometimes I make hearts. These cookies will be very tender and pillow when they are done baking so I wouldn’t use a cookie cutter that made a very narrow shape at any point, such as a swan’s neck or something.
I don’t suppose many of us make swan shaped cookies, though. Hmm..
Bake them at 350 until done, about ten minutes or so.
These are the done tea cakes.
Note how they are still very pale but have obviously risen up and crackled a bit across the surface to show they are done.
At this point, I just like to sprinkle a little colored sugar on them and be done. I love them this way. This is how Mama Reed did them for “every day”.
However, when company was coming she would mix up a little quick cookie icing and ice the tops of them in pretty pastel colors. Well folks, I can’t think of any better company I’d like to have than all of you so I guess its time to mix us up some icing!
But first, remove them from the pan and let them cool somewhere. I use cooling racks but you can use a plate or even the tabletop, whatever you prefer is fine.

This is just a simple cookie icing. Nothing fancy but it sure does taste good. You’ll need confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, margarine, and food coloring. Just use the cheap food coloring bottles, no need for the fancy stuff here.

Place two tablespoons of well softened margarine or butter in a bowl, top with 1/2 C confectioner’s sugar.

Cut that butter in with a fork.
Add two tablespoons of milk.
Stir that in well and add in a teaspoon of vanilla.
Add a few drops of your favorite coloring and stir that up to get rid of any lumps.
I still have some teeny tiny lumpies in mine but thats because I didn’t let my margarine get really soft.
I did that on purpose just to show y’all what not to do ~winks~
Spoon the icing on the center of your tea cake (this icing is excellent on sugar cookies).

Spread it around with your spoon.

Top with sprinkles and VOILA!

Now this icing is going to be very wet when you first make it and ice your cookies but it will dry after an hour or so. Just leave your cookies spread out to dry and once it does you can stack them in a cookie jar or on a plate.


Mama Reed’s Tea Cakes
  • 1 Cup butter or margarine
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3½ Cup self rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix again. Add vanilla and flour and mix well. Roll thin on floured board, cut with cookie or biscuit cutter. Bake at 350 for ten minutes. Sprinkle with sugar while warm or ice with simple icing.


SImple Icing
  • 2 Tablespoon softened butter or margarine
  • ½ Cup Confectioner's sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk (can add another if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Few drops food coloring
  1. Cut butter into confectioner's sugar. Add milk and stir until lumps are gone. Add one teaspoon of vanilla and a few drops of food coloring, stir until combined. Spoon onto cookies or tea cakes and spread with back of spoon. Top with sprinkles while still wet, if desired. Let dry before stacking.

This has absolutely nothing to do with cooking or Southern Plate but I thought you moms might appreciate it!!

We’ve all come down with our first good coughing cold of the season and my husband came home from Wal Mart with a real gem!!!

Now keep in mind, I am a veteran of Robotussin ~shudders~, which likely holds the record for most disgusting taste in the history of mankind. Think I’m kidding? Go buy a bottle and try it. Better yet, get some and wait until your spouse is dead asleep but coughing in the middle of the night. Now wake him/her up and say “Here honey, take this” and pour it down his or her mouth before they realize what hit them. THATS WHAT MY MOTHER USED TO DO TO US!!

Alright, I have a point here. We have discovered a Cough syrup that actually WORKS for TWELVE hours and tastes GOOD. Seriously, it tastes good! I’m not saying it “doesn’t taste bad”, but that it tastes good! Kids will actually LIKE this stuff! Lord, I’ve been using it and it works like a miracle cure! I am posting a photo of the box (that I had to look up on the internet because I gave the actual box to my mother so she could get some) so you will know just what to get. Its so hard when your kids are sick and coughing their little hearts out and then you have to try to force them to take this horrid medicine. This is just a life saver. I thought it was a little expensive (close to ten dollars for the bottle), but once I tasted it I knew it was well worth the money. I just took two teaspoons this afternoon and my cough has been completely gone (it was horrible all day today).

Anyway, I just wanted to share this with you because it really is amazing and I know those of us with little kids nee
d all the help we can get when they are sick!

It is Delsym Grape Twelve Hour for Kids, but adults just take two teaspoons of it. I’m not sure what the adult version tastes like, but I’m sticking with the good stuff!

I hope y’all had a great day today (its evening for me right now) and have a great day tomorrow as well! I’m getting ready for my Katy’s fourth birthday party this weekend and we are so excited!

Thank you so very much for taking the time to read Southern Plate!


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  1. Sharian says

    I have a tea cake recipe given to me 40 years by a lady who was almost 100 yrs old. They are made with lard, not butter.She didn’t have a recipe. But, she very graciously “figured” one out. The icing is just powdered sugar mixed with a tiny bit of milk and some flavoring. I use almond. My daughter calls them Christmas cookies because we only made them at Christmas time. We always put sprinkles on them. She wants me to start this tradition with my granddaughter, who is now 3.

  2. Laurie says

    Memories of watching my Great grandmother make tea cakes whenever she came to stay. She would make a pan every night while helping to prepare supper. No recipe of course, just make a well in the flour and fill it up! In my 60 years I have never found anything close. I haven’t made these yet, but your description of Mama Reed’s sounds just like my Mammaw’s tea cakes! She always added a little nutmeg. I can smell them cooking right now! Bless you for sharing.

  3. Sheila says

    Thank you so much for this PERFECT tea cake recipe! My grandmother in north Louisiana made these at Christmas time, with different holiday shapes and fancy icings. It is one of my favorite childhood memories. As we got older, we loved them plain, no icing. They are very difficult to describe if you don’t have a frame of reference for tea cakes!
    She would put them in a large glass cookie jar, surrounding an apple cut in half & cupped in a foil nest (not touching the tea cakes). Basically, this infused the tea cakes with a fresh apple moistness.
    Now I make them plain and ship them to other family members who share those fond memories or who just love tea cakes. My beloved spouse, born & raised in The Bronx, loved them at first bite!

  4. Kat says

    My greatest cooking fail was when I tried to make my grandmother’s tea cake recipe (I was 16 or so, and haven’t tried since). But then, she didn’t think that anyone needed the instructions to roll them out, etc, which is where I went wrong. Thanks to you, I now know what to do with the recipe. I’m going to make these.

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