Dallas, Interfaith, Juneteenth

Juneteenth Teacake Bake Strengthens Interfaith Bonds

Most cooks know that a recipe made by ten different people will yield ten different results. Variables are many: the age and source of the ingredients, the cook’s skill, the oven’s temperature, the weather, and even the order and method of mixing.

A Tradition of Teacake Baking

When members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Southern Dallas Interfaith Council recently met to bake teacakes, these lessons were clear. In the third year of this tradition, new friends worked with the same old family recipe. Ginny Kezele, Vernice Glenn, Nisaa Muhammad, and Debra Muhammad—two longtime friends and two sisters—each brought their unique backgrounds to the table. But the teacakes were the first order of the day.

Dr. Karen Hollie Smith, pastor at LifeWay Church, prepares her family recipe for teacakes.

Discussions included how to measure the ingredients. Ginny likes to fluff her flour with a fork before measuring it carefully. Vernice assured the others that the cookies were dropped, not rolled. Her family recipe calls for a bit of allspice instead of nutmeg. But should wet ingredients be mixed first or second? Both methods were tried in the first and second batches, which also alternated between nutmeg and allspice. The science didn’t matter once a clear winner prevailed, after careful tasting, of course.

Learning About Juneteenth Traditions

Ginny—a master cookie baker who loves to share her talents—hosted the group. But she had never heard of teacakes and knew only a few details about the Juneteenth celebration. The others helped her learn. In Texas, many people assume that the enslaved people of the state didn’t know about emancipation until June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay with the news. Nisaa said that isn’t what many Black Texans think: “The slaves in Texas knew from people in Louisiana what had happened. They just couldn’t do anything about it.”

Other traditions were also discussed. For example, red soda pop and watermelon are important for their color. No one in the group knew why, but a quick search revealed insightful answers. Red is often symbolic of blood, as that shed by enslaved ancestors. Another layer is the importance of red drinks served to guests in West African homes. Still another is the stories of slave traders luring people with swaths of red flannel cloth.

Vernice Glenn, Debra Muhammad, and Ginny Kezele rest while teacakes bake.

Sharing Personal Stories and Backgrounds

Between the stirring, scooping, baking, and cooling, there was time to learn about each other. Ginny’s husband had been a rocket scientist. Their courtship story involved a series of misunderstandings. She served a church mission in DeSoto but decided to sell her house and return when it was over. Vernice sang in One Voice, a choir directed by Gladys Knight. Both had joined the church in Las Vegas; Vernice commented, “I felt secure because there were so many members nearby.” Nisaa—who shares her name with her mother—explained that it means “woman” in Arabic. She’s proud of her daughter, who graduated this spring from the University of Texas and plans to attend medical school. Debra, her older sister, has a daughter working on her doctorate. The Muhammad aunts had welcomed two babies into the family the day before, a boy and a girl.

Connecting Through Family Histories

With the teacakes boxed and stored, there was still more to see. Ginny has an entry wall lined with family photos. The oldest was of her fourth great-grandfather, a resident of Scotland. The new friends asked questions about many of the faces peering out from the carefully arranged frames. One ancestor’s citizenship paper confirmed he specifically renounced any allegiance to Queen Victoria. Ginny’s husband’s family had a very different story. They had emigrated from Croatia. She spoke of hardships in the nearby country of Ukraine.

The third annual teacake bake ended successfully, though a second group will bake again on Friday. Dr. Karen Hollie-Smith and her sister ReDonna Polk will lead that effort. The best thing about these events is not just the product but the process. Learning is growing, and while the teacakes may have been the purpose, they weren’t the point. Next Saturday, the new friends will have more sweet memories to share as others enjoy their work.