Vereen Coen and Gene Lesesne are longtime volunteer bakers for the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Tea Room. In addition to mastering Huguenot tortes, they’ve acquired the following insider information:
Congregants are invited to follow an okra soup recipe printed in the St. Philip’s bulletin, and bring their frozen contributions to the church in the weeks leading up to the event. But Lesesne says a few home cooks inevitably fail to slice the okra as instructed: “They take the whole okra stem and put it in there,” he says. All of the soups are mixed together in a big pot, though, so tea room patrons don’t have to fear getting stuck with an inferior bowl. Coen believes frozen marrow bones are the best way to ensure a deep, beefy flavor.
The Tea Room committee keeps a meticulous schedule, outlining who waits on which table and who’s tasked with taking payment (that’s the plum assignment, Lesesne says). But there aren’t any dessert assignments: The church counts on the right number of homemade cakes and pies arriving each day. Volunteer bakers are allowed to make whatever they’d like, but Huguenot torte, coconut cake, lemon squares and pecan pie are popular choices. Once desserts are delivered, they’re whisked into the dessert room for slicing. “The girls who work in there love to garnish,” says Coen.
While proper behavior prevails at the Tea Room, it’s perfectly acceptable to order dessert first. When a server shows off a dessert tray at the start of a meal, veteran attendees know to immediately ask for the most attractive pastry on display. Volunteers will also reveal the day’s desserts by phone, and St. Philip’s this year is upping the ante by daily posting a list of available desserts on Facebook; the menu should go up by 10:30 a.m.
If you’re keen to sit on the porch, it’s best to arrive as soon as the Tea Room opens. But if you’re hoping to go home with shrimp salad or chicken salad, as Coen sometimes does, schedule your lunch for the final day, when volunteers are looking to get rid of leftovers (potentially including ham biscuits and pound cake.) Centerpieces also are sold off on Friday.
The St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Tea Room, located in Parish Hall at the corner of Church and Cumberland streets, is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. April 18-22. For more information, call 843-722-7734 or visit stphilips churchsc.org.