St. Paul tea time a family affair

The Tea Time at St. Paul fund raiser began as a fun get-together because a vicar’s wife liked to cook. Now, more than 25 years later, that first tea party has grown into an annual tradition at the Baton Rouge Lutheran church — and its members have become quite knowledgeable in the ceremony of teatime.

More than 120 guests attended this year’s silver anniversary tea hosted by the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. A few husbands, sons and grandsons also have helped out through the years.

“It was never meant to be a Mother’s Day tea, although the tea is always held the day before Mother’s Day,” said Lin Falcon, one of the tea’s organizers. “We started it because a vicar came. His wife, Lisa Peck, liked to cook so we decided to get together. We were going to seat 50. There was a woman who was a friend of a church member who had lived in Great Britain. She baked 50 scones and brought them in warm that morning. Lisa made shortbread from a recipe her mom had.”

They decided on a tea party because “we thought it would be fun and wanted a project for women to try. We loved it and we started learning more and more” about afternoon teas. “We went to a lot of teas. We held the first tea as a fund-raiser in 1989.”

Proceeds help refurnish the church’s kitchen and support charitable activities of the Women of the ELCA. Cost has only gone up $2 in the past 25 years, from $15 to today’s $17.

Planning for the tea goes on year-round. Lynne Stiteler develops the recipes, and she and Falcon try them out.

“We find recipes everywhere,” Falcon said. “Some of them are out of the paper. If they look good, we try them. Sometimes we take recipes and adapt them. I love it. I always have, ever since my mother taught to stand on a stool and learn how to scramble eggs.”

Falcon has been baking the tea’s signature Friendship Bread for at least 20 years. “Someone gave me the starter years ago and I shared it.”

Stiteler grows pesticide-free pansies for decorating the dessert course. “I paint them with an egg white and lemon juice mixture, then sprinkle them lightly with sugar,” she said. “If you put too much sugar on them, it will make them heavy and they will weep.”

They offer a traditional three-course tea. “Someone told us we serve two of the courses backwards, but that’s how we’ve always done it,” Falcon said. “We always serve the bread course first. It always includes our signature bread, a scone and a muffin. Then we serve the sandwiches and then dessert.” (The sandwiches, also called the savory course, would normally be served first.)

Guests may reserve a table for any time between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Church member Beth Aguilar handles all the decorations and table seatings, and men from the 300-member church help set up the tables. Members loan their dishes, tea pots, tables and linens to make the tea possible.

Two volunteers, Cindy Falcon and Charlotte Keller, stay busy in the kitchen brewing four teas — peach, Red Rose (orange pekoe), pomegranate, and a fourth that changes each year.

“We taste teas all year long to try something new,” Keller said. “One year we had pineapple coconut from France. We had to brew it longer because it was not as strong a tea as we’re used to. The Red Rose and peach are very popular.”

The tea pots don’t remain on guests’ tables, they said.

Instead the servers — which this year included Smokey Falcon, Bill Wolf and Steve Buco — get the pots, which are kept on warmers in the kitchen.

Lin Falcon, Stiteler and Shelby Falcon (Cindy’s daughter and Lin’s granddaughter) put the food on the plates as the 10 or so wait staff place their orders.

The event is a family affair for guests and servers, too. Retired Baton Rouge High School teacher Shirley Diehl, who was one of the tea’s early organizers, sat at a table this year surrounded by family and friends who have either attended or helped for many years. Her daughter, Lisa Diehl, recalled setting tables for the past 17 years. Lisa Diehl’s daughter, Elizabeth Forgey, 18, said she “started helping when I was two years old. I always help set tables. My twin brother, Quint Forgey, and my (late) grandfather Richard Diehl used to serve, too.”

“This is one of the few teas where everything is homemade,” noted church member Esther Staats. “They really work hard for weeks” to offer a charming, cheerful ritual.