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Mrs. Wilkes' sweet tea is so good the recipe just has to be shared
Myrtle Beach Sun News ^ | 13 August 2002 | Jay C. Grelen

Posted on 08/13/2002 4:15:07 AM PDT by aomagrat

At Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room in Savannah, Ga., they assume you want sweet tea unless you ask otherwise. Now that, gentle subscriber, is the mark of fine dining.

They set a pitcher of tea on the table, which you share with whomever else happens to sit there.

The tally at our table was five Yankees and four Southerners, so the Dixie chick and the Dixie dudes had some teaching to do.

Denette Marshall, who was visiting from Englewood, Ohio, with her family, was an immediate convert.

She so enjoyed the tea that she asked me how to make it, so I wrote out my recipe on a business card.

Sema Wilkes, who has owned the dining room for half a century, was making sweet tea before I was born. But Mrs. Wilkes (It seems disrespectful to call her simply "Wilkes," as our style dictates; I'll negotiate with the editors.) has passed the mantle to Betty Gray, who now is Queen Tea at Mrs. Wilkes'.

I was drinking a glass of tea out back of Mrs. Wilkes', where they snap the beans and shell the peas, when her co-workers pointed Betty out as the tea maker, which she has been doing for three of her 10 years with Mrs. Wilkes.

"My boss man liked the way I made it," she says. "This tea job, that's my everyday job."

She makes tea in 5-gallon buckets, six or seven buckets at a time.

She boils the water in a big pot, then drops in a dozen gallon-size tea bags. Then she dumps in a five-pound bag of Dixie Crystals sugar for each five gallons of tea. Then she dilutes it to its proper sweet strength.

"Steep it till the tea turns dark," she says. "I don't time it. I know when it's ready. It ain't nothing to it. I'm a country girl."

The tea is so popular, and since Northerners - who put sugar on their grits - have no idea where to start, the Wilkes family included the recipe for it in "Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook," available at bookstores and

Since we knew you would wonder, we reprint the family-size recipe here:

Put 3 quart-size or 6 individual tea bags in a crockery jar; they used Tetley for years but have used Lipton since Tetley closed its plant in Savannah. Pour 2 pints of boiling water over tea bags, cover and steep for 5 minutes. Pour into pitcher and add 2 pints of tap water. While tea is still warm, add 1 scant cup of sugar.

Not to create confusion or controversy, I prefer to sweeten the cold water first and then add the hot tea. But who am I to disagree with Mrs. Wilkes.

She is, after all, Mrs. Wilkes, and all I do is confuse people and create controversy.

KEYWORDS: southernculture; sweettea
1 posted on 08/13/2002 4:15:07 AM PDT by aomagrat
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To: sweetliberty; stainlessbanner; billbears
2 posted on 08/13/2002 4:16:35 AM PDT by aomagrat
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To: aomagrat
aomagrat - I started using this recipe I found on one of your sweet tea threads. It never fails!

Here is how I make sweet tea, and I ain't had any complaints:

1. Take a half-gallon pitcher and fill it approx. 1/4 way full with water. Add 1 cup of sugar and stir. This helps to melt the sugar while you are waiting for the water to boil.

2. Take 2 family size or 6 regular size tea bags (Luzianne is superior to Lipton) and put them in a regular size cereal bowl or teapot.

3. Fill the bowl with the tea bags in it with boiling water. The way I measure steeping time is like this: as soon as you pour the boiling water over the tea bags, go outside and smoke a cigarette. Don't linger, but don't rush either. By the time you're done, the tea is steeped enough.

4. Pour the bowlful of tea (without the teabags) into your already partially filled pitcher of sugar-water. You can squeeze the excess out of the tea bags using your spoon if you want, depending on how strong you want the tea. Stir while you fill the pitcher the rest of the way full with tap water. Doing it this way keeps you from having tea that's too warm and melts your ice too quickly.

5. Your pitcher of tea is best if it sits for a couple of hours, but when you get tired of waiting, pour yourself a big glass (already full of ice) of some of the best tea around.

The secret is 1 cup of sugar and 2 family size/6 regular size tea bags to the half-gallon. 1/2 cup sugar just won't cut it, but doing it my way, you won't end up with that too-sweet, syrupy tea, either, that you sometimes run into in BBQ restaurants.

3 posted on 08/13/2002 5:03:32 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: aomagrat
Does anyone see irony in the fact that Yankees put sugar on their grits, but not in their tea?
4 posted on 08/13/2002 5:05:10 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: stainlessbanner

They shouldn't be allowed to have grits if their gonna do that, YUK!
5 posted on 08/13/2002 5:24:10 AM PDT by SouthernFreebird
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To: stainlessbanner
(Luzianne is superior to Lipton)

That sir, is fighting words. My mother, my wife's mother, and both our grandmothers brought us up on Lipton. To drink anything else would be unheard of!! And BTW, are there other types of tea besides sweet?

6 posted on 08/13/2002 5:27:09 AM PDT by billbears
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To: billbears
That wasn't my recipe, I actually have both Lipton and Luzianne in my cupboard. I usually use Luzianne, but I made some Lipton the other day and it was pretty good. I have noticed that any brand of decaffinated tea doesn't taste as good, though.

You and aomagrat will probably shoot me, but the Lipton cold brew is not bad either! Every once in a while, I will bust out some cold brew... mostly when I'm lazy.

7 posted on 08/13/2002 5:40:39 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: stainlessbanner
I had lunch last week in a Mexican restaurant here last week and ordered iced tea. I was suprised to find it was already sweetened! They're learning.
8 posted on 08/13/2002 8:48:18 AM PDT by aomagrat
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To: aomagrat; lentulusgracchus
I'll bet they didn't have any of those mint juleps that lentulusgracchus is so fond of!

In Florida, it's really spotty - I can get sweet tea at most places. Quite a few of them have the carbonated stuff from a fountain that tastes like fruit punch. Some of waitresses think sweet tea means flavored tea, like rasberry!

9 posted on 08/13/2002 9:05:16 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: All


According to a Miami Herald article, iced tea was invented by an Indian tea merchant who couldn't sell his hot beverage at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. "Iced sweet tea is decidedly Southern," says Joe Simrany, president of The Tea Council. "It's very popular in warm climates and I suspect it's the number one drink in the South." 

As far as restaurants go, it pretty much follows the grits line--if you can order grits, you can get sweet tea. And it seems the more people charge for fancy food in a restaurant, the less likely you are to get sweet tea for some ungodly reason. And if the sugar isn't stirred in while the tea is still warm, it's might near impossible to dissolve it!

We in the South make the best ice tea you'll find anywhere. Maybe it's how it's done (Luzianne is the brand of choice), maybe it's the water down here, or maybe it's just that a Southern Belle has put a lot of TLC into making the tea. Who knows, but here are three fool-proof recipes, all of which are poured over glasses filled with ice and may be garnished with a spring of mint or lemon wedge if desired:

3 family-size tea bags
   (Luzianne, if possible)
*2 cups water
1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar

*Some say they use less water.

Pour the water in a pot and add the tea bags. Barely bring to a boil, do not continue boiling. Remove from heat and let steep. Pour warm tea into empty 2-quart pitcher. Add the sugar and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Fill pitcher with cold water. Refrigerate. 

3 family-size tea bags
3 cups water
*pinch baking soda
   (about 1/8 teaspoon)
1 to 1-1/3 cups of sugar
   (to taste)
Bring water to a boil. Add baking soda to the water and tea bags. Remove from heat and cover. Allow to sit for at least 10-15 minutes. Pour into 2-quart pitcher and add sugar, stirring to dissolve thoroughly, then fill with cold water. Refrigerate.

*The soda takes out any bitterness and darkens the tea. This small amount doesn’t change the taste.

3 family-size tea bags
1 quart water
Glass or translucent container
1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar


Easy Sun Tea

Put the water and tea bags in the container. Cover, put in the Sun and let sit. In about 30 minutes to an hour you have tea. Add sugar while it's still warm from the sun and stir to dissolve thoroughly. Add cold water to desired strength. Refrigerate.

Sun Tea is great for people who can't cook and this tea will never turn cloudy.

10 posted on 08/13/2002 9:57:47 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: aomagrat
It has never occurred to me that somebody wouldn't know how to make tea. Strange!

Those same people probably don't know how to make lemon aide or cole slaw either.
11 posted on 08/13/2002 5:15:55 PM PDT by JudyB1938
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To: aomagrat
Thanks for the ping. Sounds like how I make mine except that I prefer Luzianne tea bags.
12 posted on 08/14/2002 6:29:29 PM PDT by sweetliberty
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