The world by now has figured out that it wasn’t just 2020 food events that were wiped off the calendar by COVID-19. Organizers of events that annually require months of planning cancelled their 2021 dates in deference to the pandemic, which is why the Charleston area this spring is experiencing a church tearoom drought.
Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church, St. Philip’s Church, Second Presbyterian and Grace Church Cathedral all decided against operating tearooms between March and May, as tradition dictates, although organizers at Old St. Andrew’s and Grace are both eyeing fall dates for possible rescheduling.
“We are hoping to do something, but don’t know for sure what the plans are going to be,” Martha Ford of Grace said.
In typical years, around the time that soft-shell crabs make their first appearance, Charleston-area churches begin offering lunches of okra soup, shrimp salad, ham biscuits and homemade desserts by the tray-full.
Locally, tearoom fundraisers originated when Old St. Andrew’s in 1954 raised money for building improvements by selling boxed lunches to sightseers following Ashley River Road to former plantations. The programs now generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for host churches’ charitable work.
Since tearoom devotees this year can’t gather together for soup, sandwiches and sweets, Ford provided the Grace’s recipe for crab soup. As written it yields 10 servings, but the church makes batches five times as large during tearoom season.
1 pound frozen crabmeat
1 stick of butter
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
6 cups whole milk, divided
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart half-and-half
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Old Bay, or to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon sherry, or to taste
Pick over crab meat. Remove all cartilage or shell bits. Set aside.
Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onions and celery in butter until softened. Add five cups of milk, heavy cream and half-and-half. Lower heat and stir Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and Old Bay into milk mixture until combined.
Dissolve cornstarch in remaining cup of milk. Slowly stir into soup until thickened. Add crab meat to soup. If the soup is too thick, or if you want to stretch it to serve more people, add more heavy cream or half-and-half.
Remove soup from heat. Add sherry and serve in individual bowls.