How do you win a pie eating contest? Ask this Bluffton teen
I'm about to break your heart.
Or rather, your stomach's heart.
If you were planning to come to the 40th annual Bluffton Village Festival on Saturday with an empty cooler in hopes of filling it with shrimp salad sandwiches from The Church of the Cross — as people have lined up to do since the early 1990s — I suggest you use that cooler to have a seat while I break the news.
There won't be any shrimp salad sandwiches from the Cross Christian Women at the festival this year.
The church is taking the year off because of some refrigeration concerns, according to Becky Owens, who is the wife of the church's pastor, the Rev. Chuck Owens.
"It takes two days of preparation and lots of refrigerator space to provide a safe product to the public," she said in an email, noting that the church makes between 800 and 900 sandwiches for the festival.
Your disappointment is understandable.
Sandwiches have been a staple of the festival from just about the very beginning — when it was simply called MayFest and church women sold homemade pimento cheese, tomato, ham or turkey sandwiches out of wheelbarrows. But it's the shrimp salad sandwiches, in particular, that have resonated with festivalgoers, especially those who headed over to Calhoun Street early year after year just to avoid the inevitable early afternoon declaration that there was no more shrimp salad to be had.
Each year the church women's group has spent the days before the festival in an assembly line, making the shrimp salad — a simple combination of shrimp, mayonnaise, celery, egg and seasoning. The tradition has continued through the years with daughters taking over the sandwich-making responsibilities from their mothers, all the while raising money for service projects and grants.
Much like Bluffton itself, a lot has changed about the sandwiches over the years, going from the familiar to the more labor-intensive shrimp salad variety, from containing onions to not containing onions, from the original recipe to the "new one," which was from Stiles Harper's family, given to the women's ministry sometime around 1990.
"My mother's mother came up with the recipe," Harper, who lives in Bluffton, said in 2015. "It was served on Boston lettuce leaves as a main course or a side course."
Back in the day, Harper and The Church of the Cross women used the commercial kitchen in his home to make things like deviled crab, artichoke relish, fig preserves and pumpkin chips for fundraisers.
"This sounds disgusting," he said, "but it's really good. I used to boil the shrimp in big pots and take them off the stove so the fat from the shrimp would congeal. Once it settled, I'd strain the fat and put it in my salad. But a few of the women didn't like the idea of congealed shrimp fat. One Saturday, two of the resisters were late so I put the fat in the salad. 'This is the best shrimp salad I've ever eaten,' they said. I was smug about it."
Owens was not clear on whether the shrimp salad sandwiches would return next year, but said the church would "assess the situation."