Most of us are always on the lookout for the next, new thing. This keeps life interesting, we’re told. But sometimes when you are looking for something new, you stumble over something old. Something, perhaps, that you had forgotten. You’d “moved on,” as they say. And when you circle back around and come across that old thing, it is just as good as if it were new. Maybe even better.
Allow me to explain.
I like to bake. Not all things. I once baked bread but gave it up. For some reason, it didn’t really do that much for me and, anyway, around here, there are bakers whose bread is sublime. Far superior to anything I might turn out in my kitchen. When I need bread, I buy theirs.
What I like to bake is … cookies. Sometime before Thanksgiving I start working on the Christmas cookies and they are extravagant, if I do say so. Multiple ingredients. Frostings. Intricate shapes. These are what you might call “designer cookies.” It is great fun making them and terribly satisfying to give them to people when I’m invited over for a little Christmas cheer.
So every year, I’m on the lookout for a new and more extravagant cookie. Something that is really over the top.
But, then, a couple of years ago, I discovered—or rediscovered—one of the world’s simplest, most fundamental cookies. And now I am obsessed with making the perfect tea cake.
It is a Southern thing and no surprise there, since I am originally from the South. But I learned tea cakes from my husband’s family, actually, down in South Alabama. They are tea cake connoisseurs. Not to say … snobs. Maybe even impossible snobs.
And what is a tea cake?
Glad you asked.
The ingredients are simplicity itself. Butter, sugar, eggs, flour, soda, salt, nutmeg and vanilla. But as is true with anything that is simple, getting it right is very, very hard. The simpler, in fact, the harder. That is some sort of truth about this life.
Anyway, I am now on this quest for the perfect tea cake. Of course, I’ll never get there. My husband always makes nice noises about my tea cakes. But I know they are not yet up to the standards of Francis Gray’s tea cakes which were, in his experience, the nes plus ultra. So I keep trying.
The great virtue of tea cakes is their simplicity. They are so basic. So even though they are Southern in origin and essence, they seem right here in Vermont where simplicity is woven into our idea of the good life. It is a gaudy world out there and it sometimes seems like most people believe that excess is not enough. But in Vermont, we still like the simple things and we hold on to them and celebrate them. (Like we do here, at Stratton Magazine.)
So I am working on a (very) slight modification of the traditional tea cake recipe and if it works, I hope to give a few to my daughter for her little Pink Boot Farm store in Manchester.
Check it out. It’s right behind “Joy’s” on Rte 7A, and while you are there, ask about my tea cakes. Until then, enjoy the season and the many simple pleasures of Vermont and Stratton Magazine. In this issue, these include: A small and amazing tale about Monarchs, the Vermont state butterfly. (Who knew?) We also take a look at rattlesnakes (who knew about them either???), runners and the organic farm to plate movement here in Southern Vermont. And, as always, there’s much, much more for you to enjoy tucked inside these pages.