The Epic Love Story Behind This Family's Famous Cookie Recipe
Harold Odom Jr. makes tea cakes at least once a month. "I send batches to all of the uncles and aunts in the family and some cousins," he says. "My Sunday school class demands them at least once a quarter. My grandkids and all of the Odom family love them. My golfing buddies look in my lunch bag to see if I brought any to share."
The recipe comes from Harold's grandmother, Addie Jane Lewis Odom, who was well known for her tea cakes. "As a result, she earned the name 'Tea Cake Lady' in her Shankleville [Texas] community and throughout Newton County," says Harold. "On one visit with Big Mama, the two of us sat and calculated the number of tea cakes that she'd made over her lifetime, and we came up with more than 250,000. She made them every day for her kids to take to school in a syrup bucket with a piece of sausage for lunch. When her grandchildren came along, she'd make them for us, but she'd never give us more than one tea cake at a time. We would crawl on our bellies to get to the ceramic cookie jar where she kept them, and every time we touched the lid, she would hear and get on us, then give us another."
"Several of her granddaughters tried to learn the recipe and the process she used, but when Big Mama would taste the cookies they made, she'd say, 'You ain't got it'," Harold continues. "She had the habit of baking a batch of tea cakes whenever she'd visit her children and/or grandchildren, and during a 1984 visit she made to Houston for treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, I videotaped her making a batch at my house. I studied the tape and, through trial and error, finally 'got it.' I then reduced the process to a recipe, and today at the biennial A. T. and Addie Odom Family Reunion, I teach a tea cake-making class for family members."
"I've been asked to add things like nuts and other flavors, but my creed is that 'you don't adulterate Big Mama Addie Odom's Tea Cakes'," he says.
While Harold celebrates his grandmother's legendary tea cakes, he also takes pride in the remarkable family legacy that brought his ancestors to Texas in the first place. His great-great-great grandparents Jim and Winnie Shankle were the founders of Shankleville, a freedmen's community in Newton County, Texas, with a poignant, romantic origin.
Jim and Winnie were both born into slavery in the early 1800s. They fell in love while together on a Mississippi plantation. According to the Shankleville Historical Society, after Winnie and her three children were sold to a Texan, Jim ran away from his Mississippi owner. He foraged for food, swam streams (including the Mississippi River), and traveled by night, under the cover of darkness, 400 miles to east Texas. At dusk one day, he found Winnie beside her master's spring. After slipping out food to Jim for several days, Winnie told her master, who arranged to buy Jim.
The Society's research shows that the the couple raised Winnie's three children (by her slave masters) and had six of their own. After Emancipation, they began buying land, and with their son-in-law Steve McBride, eventually owned more than four thousand acres. They became local leaders in the freedmen's community, Shankleville, that sprang up and was named for them. An annual Shankleville Homecoming has been held since 1941.
Today, thanks to Harold, Big Mama Addie Odom's Tea Cakes continue to delight Odom descendants. When he teaches the class at family reunions, Harold insists that the cookies be referred to as "Big Mama Addie Odom's Tea Cakes." He has two recipes-one version calls for two pounds of flour and makes about three dozen tea cakes. The other version calls for five pounds of flour and makes about ten dozen. "We do the two-pound version in the class," says Harold. "I usually have five or six participants each time. Some of them are 'remedial students' from previous classes."
Reprinted from From Tea Cakes to Tamales: Third-Generation Texas Recipes (2016) by Nola McKey, with permission from Texas A&M University Press.
You Might Also Like