Breland: Old-time tea cakes made with cane syrup

Published 10:09 am Thursday, December 23, 2021

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It must have been a good season for sugar cane, since there seems to be a lot of cane syrup being marketed now. This delicious syrup is well-known to southerners and particularly to country folks.

A sweet couple in our Sunday School class shared some syrup with us and besides eating it on hot buttered biscuits, I tried to think of other ways to use it. I remembered the taste of the tea cakes mother used to make and the sweetener was cane syrup. After school our special treat would be tea cakes with a class of milk.

Back in the days of fewer groceries on hand, people made use of what was available, rather than “running to the store.” Usually one had flour, butter, milk, eggs and cane syrup, so tea cakes could be made so easily for a “something sweet” treat.

I was a child back in the days of World War II, and many things were unavailable or only available occasionally by rationing. Sugar was one of those items. Most farm families grew cane and made syrup in autumn. One could substitute syrup for refined sugar, which in Louisiana is also made from sugar cane!

This old-time work process for making cane syrup is shown every year at Mile Branch Settlement, with mules going round and round, while the cane is mashed into small pieces and the juice extracted, later boiled down and made into syrup. It is a lot of work, but the results are worth it.

I wanted to attempt to taste those good tea cakes again, and Mother never used a recipe. She just tossed everything together into flour in her regular biscuit making container, and rolled them out like biscuits.

So I looked up a recipe on the Internet. Most of them used sugar along with the syrup, but the results were pretty good. Maybe mother did that too … I just remember the taste of cane syrup.

If you want something a little different for a sweet treat, you might want to try the following recipe, which I used. It came from Southern Living magazine. It makes a lot of tiny cakes, it says 6 dozen, but the ones I made were a little bigger and I got a few over three dozen. They will be eaten fast!

Grandma’s Tea Cakes

1 cup butter, softened

1-1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup cane syrup

1 Tbsp. Vanilla flavoring

1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice

3 large eggs

4-1/2 cups self-rising flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add cane syrup and next two ingredients, beating just until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Gradually add flour, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition. Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls two inches apart onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets, using a small cookie scoop (about 1-1/4 inches).

(I rolled mine into little bigger balls, using a little bit more flour on my hands, and put them down individually on a lightly-greased baking sheet, pressing them down slightly with my fingers. It worked fine).

Bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes or just until edges begin to turn golden brown. Watch them! They will brown quickly! Cool on baking sheets on wire racks one minute; transfer to wire racks. Cool completely (about 15 minutes). Store in airtight containers one week.

If you haven’t observed Christmas as yet, Merry Christmas! If it is over, I wish you all a wonderful year ahead. We are about due for a good one!


Retired as Associate News Editor, Bob Ann Breland writes a weekly column for The Daily News. You can email her at