Perhaps the most iconic of all Kentucky Derby dishes is the Derby-Pie®; in fact, Derby is right there in the pastry’s name! Served warm or cool, with ice cream, whipped cream, or all by itself, Derby-Pie® is one of those treats that you just can’t pass up. The signature mix of chocolate chips and walnuts, the oh-so-light filling, the flaky pastry. Every time you take a bite, you feel like a cross between an amateur chef and a detective: Is that a taste of bourbon? Or maybe vanilla? No, it’s got to be a high-rye bourbon; the tartness will offset the sweetness of the chocolate…
Of course, the secrets of Derby-Pie® are closely guarded by Kern’s Kitchen, a family-owned company here in Louisville. The story goes that, in the early 1950s, George Kern was managing the restaurant at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, KY, just outside of Louisville. With the help of his parents, Walter and Leaudra Kern, George came up with a signature dessert for the restaurant. Once the recipe was perfected, the Kerns needed a great name for their creation, which combined the flavors of a chocolate chip cookie and a nut pie. So, they wrote several suggestions on slips of paper, and threw those into a hat. The winning name was, of course, Derby Pie, a reference to the big horse race just a few miles down the road. Soon, the Kerns were met with so many copycats of their delicious dessert that, in 1968, they filed for federal trademark protection of the term Derby-Pie®.
The Melrose Inn is long gone, having closed its doors in 2000, but the Kern’s Kitchen company is going strong, selling their delicious pies in restaurants and retailers throughout Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. For over fifty years, Derby-Pie® has been the taste of the Kentucky Derby for Kentuckians who are way too young to place a bet or order a mint julep, who miss their Old Kentucky Homes, or for those attending parties en route to the Derby. We may not know exactly what’s in a Derby-Pie®, but we know it tastes like Derby Season!
This post also appears on the Kentucky Derby Book blog. Special thanks to the folks at Kern's Kitchen for Derby-Pie® photos!}