Most people know the basics of the United States’ most famous horse race, the Kentucky Derby.
They know, of course, that it is a horse race and that it is held in Kentucky. They know that jockeys ride the horses and that trainers train them. They know that people can make money by betting on the horses.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that many people know that the specific breed is called the Thoroughbred and that the winner is draped in roses. They’ll know that the race is part of a series known as the Triple Crown. They’ll know that the race has been going on for a long time- 150 years uninterrupted, in fact- and that there is a lot of tradition and culture imbued in the event.
Few, however, know the role that specific foods and drinks play in that historic Derby celebration.
Read on to learn more about the Kentucky Derby’s edible and drinkable traditions!
Sweet And Savory Meals
Derby Pies are a dessert created by Walter and Leaundra Kern and have been popular- and inextricably linked to the Kentucky Derby- for over fifty years.
In 1954, the Kerns created a delicious dessert pie with chocolate, walnuts, and a secret recipe. They chose the name Derby Pie from a hat, as the story goes, but the Kerns were able to eventually trademark the name and use it to partner with the Kentucky Derby festival beginning in 1990. Since then, patrons of the Run for the Roses have been able to enjoy this scrumptious dessert while celebrating the Greatest Two Minutes In Sports.
Many imitators have attempted to capitalize on the Derby Pie’s success and popularity, but only the Kern family and their restaurant, at the Melrose Inn, can provide racing fans with the genuine article.
This is a great dish to try while picking your winner for this year’s race. You can check all the past winners here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/winners/.
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Burgoo is a spicy stew that has been served in Kentucky since before the inception of the Kentucky Derby.
This delicacy was not originally a food enjoyed by the upper echelons of society. Instead, it was a historic “struggle meal” made from a combination of spices and whatever meats and vegetables the cook had available. Burgoo stews were made from chicken and pork but were also often concocted from rabbit, squirrel, or other common “pest” animals that the poor could easily trap and prepare.
The modern burgoo stew is only slightly more standardized. Like chili, cookies, or other recipes passed down through the generations, families have tweaked their own combinations and keep them secret. However, most commercial burgoo recipes contain pork or mutton as the primary ingredient. Southern vegetables such as okra or Lima beans, alone with potatoes, are added next. Finally, cornmeal, ground beans, or starch (or soup bones if the cook is especially traditional) is added to thicken the stew. The stew is often served with cornbread, so that every drop of goodness can be sopped up.
Fun fact: Burgoo was immortalized in Kentucky Derby history in yet another way, as the 1932 winner was named Burgoo King.
The Oaks Lily
The Lily is the official alcoholic beverage of the Kentucky Oaks, which is the Kentucky Derby equivalent for three-year-old fillies. It is a relatively new tradition, having been created in 2006 by Tim Laird.
Laird created the drink as an alternative to the mint julep, which he believed to be “a drink that you have to love if you’re going to have two or three.” He believed that the refreshing vodka drink would have broader appeal, particularly on hot late-spring days. The appearance of the drink, which is an electric red-pink color, is also attractive.
The official Oaks Lily is made from 1 ¼ ounces of Finlandia vodka, one ounce of sweet and sour mix, ¼ ounce of Triple Sec, and three ounces of cranberry juice served with crushed ice.
The Mint Julep
This drink, even more than the other recipes mentioned in this article, is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby.
Juleps were associated with horse racing decades before the inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby, as the silver glasses were often awarded to winning jockeys as trophies. Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr, who built Churchill Downs and essentially created the Kentucky Derby, served mint juleps at the track, and people enjoyed indulging in Kentucky bourbon while watching Kentucky horses.
The connection between the two became official in 1939. To stop patrons from absconding with the track’s glassware, mint juleps were named as the race’s official drink and began being served in souvenir glasses. Nowadays, a new souvenir glass is produced every year with that running’s official Kentucky Derby artwork and a list of each Derby winner. They are popular collectors’ items, and older glasses in good condition can fetch a high price.
The julep itself is a simple drink. It is made from two ounces of Old Forester bourbon, one tablespoon of mint syrup, and crushed ice.