Only in the lower Southeast corner of the United States, are sesame seeds still referred to as Benne Seed and almost always connected with a candy, a savory cracker or a sweet wafer. Watermelon seeds and Benne Seed were brought to America on slave ships back in the early 18th century from Africa. It’s difficult to think of the hardship to get these seeds to our shores and difficult to imagine American cuisine without Watermelon or Sesame Seed. The first time I ate a Benne Seed Wafer, I was on a Girl Scout trip in Savannah, at the home of Founder Juliette Gordon Lowe, actual Girl Scouts baked the small thin crunchy wafers for us there. Lucky for me, since I wasn’t born a roughin’ it type of girl, much less a very enthusiastic scout, I never forgot those little wafers. Only in the Low Country and Coastal South do you regularly find recipes where Benne Seed are a central ingredient. I rarely make Benne Seed Wafers- they need to come with a warning on the recipe- *Do not make these home alone! You are at risk of eating the entire batch! I have made Benne Wafers which are like a savory shortbread dough baked then salted while hot, I have added lemon zest and thyme or even grated sharp cheddar cheese for variations, but again not often- honestly you could stand there and eat every one. Just look at these Salty Benne Wafers! Great with a summer salad, or to serve with soup or a fancy snack!
Benne Seed Candy has a caramel like base with a heavy dose of toasted Benne Seeds- wrapped in little squares of cellophane. Toasted Benne Seed are the key ingredient- to do this , place the pale white seeds in an iron skillet and toast in a hot oven until they are browned, being careful not to burn the seed. As the seeds cook in a recipe, a browned nutty flavor is achieved. Topping off Yeast Rolls, sprinkled across a pan of cornbread, browned on the bottom of biscuits or even tossed in the batter for fish- Benne Seed add crunch and texture. I just had to share the best recipe I’ve come up with for Benne Seed Wafers, tweaked from several very good old fashioned cookbooks. And darlin’, it’s not pronounced- Been– with the ‘e‘ dropped; please say it like Jack Benny or Awl-benny Georgia!
Camellia’s Cottage Benne Seed Wafers
- Toast 3/4 cup of Benne Seed, set aside to cool.
- Cream together 1 stick of butter with 1 cup of light brown sugar. (In Southern Recipes, because of the age old problem of heat- butter was salted to retain freshness, therefore salted butter is used in old recipes unless otherwise indicated.)
- Add 1 large beaten egg to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix well.
- Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, stir well.
- Now, add 3/4 cup of sifted self rising flour (add 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder to all purpose flour if you don’t keep self rising flour on hand) Do not overbeat but mix well.
- Fold in 3/4 cup of toasted benne seed carefully.
- Pre-heat oven to 350º, while dropping mixture from a scant teaspoon approximately 2 inches apart onto a buttered parchment lined baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat- if you have one it makes baking easier).
- Bake for 11-12 minutes (14 for silicone baking mat).
- Remove and cool slightly, no more than a minute because the cooled Benne Seed Cookies will stick!
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely- the cookies will crisp up as they cool.
- Makes an incredible 5-6 dozen Benne Seed Wafers!
Serve as soon as possible so you won’t eat them all yourself! Actually, they keep very well stored in an airtight container. If you’re smart, you will package them up in cellophane bags for 4th of July Favors!
While you’re enjoying Hamburgers on Sesame Seed buns and cold wedges of Watermelon- tell the story of how these African treasures made it to our shores, for it is in the telling…we won’t forget.
Love y’all, Camellia