Carnival Cuisine

Photos by Todd Douglas

Charles Parmenter and Greg Reynolds have an impressive flair for creating a memorable affair and a serious knack for combining old and new that applies to everything from their recipes to their guest lists. The couple owns Olde Mobile Antiques Gallery, and they have a passion for both collecting and entertaining. They are becoming increasingly renowned for the Mardi Gras revelry that they host each year at their historic downtown abode. This marks the fourth year of the annual celebration.

The Fat Tuesday festivities begin after Charles participates in his usual stint as a guest Mardi Gras commentator for Fox10. “Then, I go back to the house and prepare for all the people that start arriving about noon. The party will go on until midnight when we turn off the lights to begin Lent.” Their house, built in 1857, overflows with intriguing art and antiques, so the pair tends to keep the party props and extra decor to a minimum, focusing instead on food and friends. However, they do like to punctuate the party with a smattering of their spectacular pieces, such as the voluminous punchbowl, once owned by Augusta Evans (see opposite), filled with a frothy beverage, and a bathtub of vintage doubloons offered as party favors. “From all the estates we acquire over the course of the year, we have thousands of doubloons so I just fill the tub up with them, ” Charles says. The menu shifts slightly from year to year, depending on the date of Mardi Gras, and the guest list changes as well.

The fun-filled itinerary also includes a couple of big evening parties for the parades the week before Mardi Gras, and they say it never fails that someone always shows up a week early or a week late. According to them, this is especially prevalent amongst newcomers to Mobile. So, ever the gracious hosts, they have found a way to handle this sticky situation. Charles laughs, “I have started preparing little gift baskets to hand them at the door and send them on their merry way.”

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Miss Velma Croom’s Cheese Straws

Charles and Greg love to serve traditional Mobile favorites, such as these tried-and-true cheese straws from the late, lovely Velma Croom.

3/4 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese (Cracker Barrel preferred)
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Combine cheese and softened butter until well blended.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne. Stir into cheese/butter mixture (by hand or in a mixer). This should form a big soft ball of dough.
4. Pack dough into a cookie press. Squeeze out cheese straws, flat side down, onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Bake for 20 minutes. Watch carefully. Do not allow to brown.
6. Remove cheese straws from cookie sheet to cool on waxed paper. They will become crisp as they cool. Break into 3-inch pieces.
7. Once completely cool, keep in an air-tight container, layering with waxed paper to keep them from breaking. Makes approximately 7 dozen.

Nancy Wettermark’s Coffee Punch

This decadent classic makes a sweet dessert or a lavish eye-opener. Charles and Greg like to offer good coffee liqueur alongside.

1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream, frozen hard (Breyer’s preferred)
4 cups hot coffee
coffee liqueur, optional (Kahlua or Tia Maria recommended)

1. Place ice cream in punch bowl, pour hot coffee over the ice cream.
2. Beat slightly with a whisk until ice cream is partially melted.
3. Pour into punch glasses, add liqueur, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Serves approximately 15.

Fish House Punch

This recipe comes from Charles’ mother, Arlene. The name is from one of her favorite restaurants, The Fish House, in Philadelphia, circa 1940.

1 1/2 cups sugar
7 – 10 cups water
3 cups lemon juice
2 cups Jamaican dark rum
2 cups light rum
2 cups cognac
1/2 cup peach brandy

1. Pour sugar into punch bowl and add water, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
2. Add remaining ingredients.
3. Let stand for about 2 – 3 hours,  stirring occasionally.
4. When ready to serve, add a block of ice or ice ring, and stir gently until the punch is chilled. Makes approximately 40 servings.

Southern Seafood Stuffing

This warm, savory seafood stuffing makes a glorious entrée or side dish. Charles and Greg like to serve it in individual ramekins as a filling,  pick-up party food.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 pound crabmeat
1/2 pound medium shrimp,  peeled and deveined
1 (6-ounce) package cornbread stuffing (Stove Top preferred)
1/2 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
3. Add onion, celery, crabmeat and shrimp. Sauté for about 5 minutes,  until shrimp is opaque and vegetables are softened. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, stir together the stuffing mix, breadcrumbs and sugar. Mix in the seafood mixture. Stir in soup and a bit of chicken broth to moisten.
5. Spoon mixture into ramekins, and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 6.

Greg Reynolds’ Mother’s
Chocolate Pie

A chocoholic’s fantasy, this rich, delicious pie is practically sinful. The recipe comes from Greg’s mom, Charlene.

1 1/3 cups chocolate chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
4 eggs, separated
1 pie shell
whipped cream, optional

1. In the top of a double boiler,  combine chocolate chips, sugar and water.
2. Cook over hot, but not boiling, water stirring frequently until the chips melt.
3. Remove from the hot water, let cool slightly.
4. Add the egg yolks. Then stir until well combined.
5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites, until just stiff. Fold into the melted chocolate mixture.
6. Pour into a prepared pie shell.
7. Allow to chill for at least 6 hours.
8. Top with whipped cream if desired. Serves 8.

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