May 8, 2013 10:32:53 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
"You remember that episode of 'I Love Lucy,' with the candy on the conveyor belt? That's what the takeout room is like," joked Tom Whitaker Monday afternoon. He was talking of the annual "lunch rush" at St. Paul's Episcopal Church Women May Luncheon and Bake Sale, a much-anticipated event on Columbus' culinary calendar every spring. The comparison to Lucy and Ethel's iconic antics keeping up with a speedy candy factory conveyor belt of chocolates may be a bit exaggerated -- but perhaps only a bit.
Whitaker was among an informal group of volunteers gathered at a table in the church Parish Hall, looking over lists and checking them twice in preparation for this year's luncheon set for Friday, May 10.
A combination of dine-in elegance and takeout convenience, the event invites patrons to dine in the Parish Hall at linen-draped tables graced with flowers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Or, pick up takeout dinners from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost for dine-in is $10; takeout meals are $8.
Diners have the choice of homemade chicken salad plates, with stuffed eggs, chips, sweet pickles and dessert -- or barbecue plates, with chips, potato salad, roll, dill pickles and dessert. The barbecue is donated by parish member Tom Wolford, and expertly prepared by him, along with a crackerjack crew of assistants.
Advance takeout orders for businesses and individuals may be emailed today and Thursday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday until 9:30 a.m. to [email protected] Advance takeout orders will be taken by phone today and Thursday at 662-240-0187 or 662-328-6673.
Lee Ann Starr, president of St. Paul's ECW, was among those at the table Monday.
"There are so many people involved in this, women and men," she said, emphasizing how many willing hands are needed in the days before the event, and on the big day itself, to make and serve more than 600 meals.
Numerous committees are charged with gathering quality ingredients and preparing each item according to precise instructions passed down from year to year. Celery is to be chopped a certain way; stuffed egg committee members must follow directions to the letter. There can be no deviation in making the prized cooked dressing used in the chicken salad. No task is too small to escape notice, down to washing fresh, home-grown mint for iced tea. This attention to detail is something the luncheon has become known for.
Another highlight of the day will be the annual bake sale, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (or earlier, if goods are sold out). It always draws a mass of shoppers early, eager for their first picks of cakes, pies, cheese straws, cookies, jellies and more.
With a history dating back to 1865, the St. Paul's event has acquired more than its share of stories. Katherine Horton's family has been a part of the luncheon for generations. As a girl she and her friends used to be let out of elementary school to help with washing dishes, or whatever chore called.
"Back in my mother's day, we'd really dress up, with hat and gloves. It was like an Easter parade!" Horton shared. The recipes, she added, used to be closely-guarded secrets. Several, however, were eventually shared in the classic cookbook, "A Grand Heritage: A Culinary Legacy of Columbus, Mississippi" (much to the delight of cooks everywhere).
Starr, Horton and Whitaker were joined at the table Monday by the Rev. Anne Harris, Nan Wyckoff and ECW Vice President Karen Frye.
The volunteers reminisced, sharing memories and smiles. There was the year the fridge froze some of the stuffed eggs, which led to frantic defrosting on the morning of. Or that time someone assigned to cooked dressing strayed from the recipe. And the famous "Davis Patty tray," a combo of chicken salad and barbecue, always requested by the late Columbus patriarch.
There was also laughter over the good-natured "rivalry" for chicken salad and barbecue between the dine-in team working the kitchen and the takeout team down the hall, rooted in each team's worry they'll run out before demand is met. A bit of poaching isn't unheard of.
"We usually have chicken salad hidden in all sorts of (refrigerated) nooks and crannies," smiled Frye.
Part of the luncheon's legacy is also fondly remembering those whose faces are missing, the group agreed -- people such as the late Freddie Jones, Eleanor Slaughter and Hunter Gholson, among many, many others.
Those past, and those present are all part of this fund raiser that benefits St. Paul's outreach missions locally, nationally and internationally. This year they include Loves and Fishes, HEARTS after-school tutoring, Helping Hands, the Good Samaritan Clinic, Episcopal Relief and Development, Honduras Missions and Children at Risk.
"Of course, it's not only about raising money for the missions," said the Rev. Harris, "it's also about fellowship and doing something for the community. This is my second year, and I remember last year being absolutely amazed at how much teamwork goes into this and how smoothly it goes, especially since I see some of the anxiety beforehand. It's just amazing to see the parish pull together like this."
The event, Starr noted, is much like a well-oiled machine that just requires a bit of warming up to get going, carrying on a tradition that nourishes not only the community without, but also the church community within.
Episcopal Church Women May Luncheon and Bake Sale
WHO: St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Columbus
WHAT: Annual dine-in or takeout dinner and bake sale
WHEN: Friday, May 10. Dine in 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (Pick up takeout orders 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
WHERE: 318 College St.
COST: Dine-in $10 for chicken salad plates or barbecue plates ($8 takeout). Place takeout orders Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday until 9:30 a.m. by emailing [email protected] Or call 662-240-0187 or 662-328-6673 May 8-9.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.