Dash of Class: In Kentucky, Derby is a tradition in sports and food

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Food column by Nora Sweat

By Nora Sweat

Saturday, May 5, is the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, which many sports enthusiasts refer to as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” The race, which began in 1875, is 1.25 miles long and is for 3-year-olds. But for as much history and tradition there is about the horses and Churchill Downs, there is as much tradition about the food and drinks served at the race track on the first Saturday of May.

The Mint Julep, an iced drink consisting of bourbon, mint and a sugar syrup is the traditional beverage of the race. The historic drink can be served in an ice-frosted silver julep cup but most Churchill Downs patrons sip from souvenir glasses, which first were offered in 1939 and have been available in revised form each year since, printed with all previous Derby winners.

But there are many other foods offered to Derby guests with Derby pie at the top of the list. It is a pastry that was created in the Melrose Inn of Prospect by George Kern with the help of his parents. The pie is a chocolate and walnut delicacy usually with a pastry dough crust. It commonly is made with pecans, chocolate chips and Kentucky bourbon. The name Derby Pie is a registered trademark of Kern’s Kitchen, which registered the name in 1968. Kern’s Kitchen diligently guards the trademark and secret recipe, which is known only to a small group of Kern family members and a single Kern’s Kitchen employee, who actually mixes the recipe everyday. I always taught my students that it is a protected product name because it is a registered trademark; any others who make similar pies have had to alter their recipes slightly or use a different name such as Run for the Roses Pie, Kentucky Pie, Pegasus Pie, Chocolate Chip Pie or May Day Pie.

Benedictine or Benedictine Spread is a condiment made with cucumbers and cream cheese. It is used to make crustless cucumber sandwiches and was invented around the turn of the 20th century by Jennie Carter Benedict, a caterer and restaurateur in Louisville. Originally used for sandwiches, Benedictine has in recent years been used as a dip for chips and filling for potatoes.

The Hot Brown, a tradition for visitors of Kentucky, is celebrating its 85th birthday this year, compliments of The Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon on toast points, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. Many Hot Browns also include ham with the turkey and tomatoes over the sauce. Some restaurants substitute cheese sauce for the Mornay, but that doesn’t make it a Hot Brown in many people’s opinion.

As for other sweets, many visitors to Kentucky will want to take home some famous Kentucky Bourbon Balls. Rebecca Ruth makes those wonderful, decadent treats, but you can make your own for less than you would have to pay for those made by large Chocolatier companies.

One of my favorite sweets for this time of year is bourbon brownies. Cut them in small squares and garnish with a bit of piped whipped cream and add a mint leaf for just an elegant look for the Derby.

Now that I have you drooling, let me give you those recipes.

Mint Julep

1/4 c. fresh mint leaves

2 c. water, heated

2 c. sugar

Crushed ice


To make simple syrup, heat water and whisk in sugar. Remove from heat. Add mint and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes. For each Mint Julep, add cracked ice to a glass and add 3 T. Bourbon. Add 2 1/2 t. syrup. Stir lightly. Garnish with fresh mint. Mint Juleps traditionally are served with two short straws.

Run for the Roses Pie

2 eggs

1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 c. walnuts, chopped

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ c. all purpose flour

1 c. sugar

1 t. vanilla

Mix flour and sugar; add eggs and cooled butter. Then add walnuts, chips; fold in vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Pie is done when it looks like a crust has formed on top.

Shady Lane Café’s Benedictine spread

3-8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 T. finely diced red onion

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded & finely diced or grated

¼ c. mayonnaise

1 T. + 1 ½ t. lemon juice

1 t. salt

1-2 drops green food coloring

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer until almost fluffy, two to three minutes. Makes 2 cups.

Source: The Courier Journal, Sept. 10, 2009

Hot Brown Sandwich

2 T. butter

2 T. all purpose flour

4 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. Romano cheese, plus 1 T. for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Sliced roasted turkey breast

2 Slices of Texas toast (crust trimmed)

4 slices of crispy bacon

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

Paprika, parsley

In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste. Continue to cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk whipping cream into the mixture and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with slices of turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Romano cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

Source: www.thebrownhotel.com/dining

Bourbon Balls

1 stick margarine

1 lb. powdered sugar

¼ c. bourbon

Pecans, finely chopped (optional)

Mix margarine, powdered sugar and bourbon together until well blended. If mixture seems sticky, add more powdered sugar. Roll into small balls and place on waxed paper to dry. Twenty-four hours later, dip in melted chocolate melts made by Wilton. Light cocoa is milk chocolate and dark cocoa is semi-sweet chocolate. You can use candy coating available at the grocery, but it does not have the rich taste of the chocolate melts. They are available at Michael’s, Walmart and maybe other places.

Source: Juanita Vaillancourt, my Mom

Bourbon Brownies

1 box family size brownies

½ c. pecans, chopped

¼ c. bourbon

½ c. margarine, softened

2 c. sifted powdered sugar

3 T. bourbon

6 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 T. margarine

Make brownies according to package directions and add chopped pecans. Cool brownies and brush them with ¼ c. bourbon. Cool completely. Cream ½ c. margarine and powdered sugar with 3 T. bourbon. Spread over brownies. Cool. Melt chocolate chips and 2 T. margarine in microwave oven. Spread over brownies, refrigerate. It is best to let brownies return to room temperature before serving.

Source: www.knobcreek.com

Nora Sweat is a native of Hardin County and a retired home economics/family and consumer science teacher. She can be reached at norasweat@thenewsenterprise.com or by mail at 408 W. Dixie Ave., Elizabethtown, KY 42701.