Southern food historians say tea cakes evolved from an English recipe brought to America by British settlers in the 18th century. They were known as “little cakes” and were served with afternoon tea, but are called tea biscuits in Britain today.
The basic recipe was passed by word-of-mouth for generations. Unlike the English, Southerners made the cakes for snacks or special occasions, especially at Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Each cook added special ingredients, such as molasses or grated lemon rinds and spices.