The famed Palm Beach clothing designer's ties to the Kentucky DerbyRead More
Did you ever wonder why we wear elaborate hats to the Kentucky Derby? Well, the history of the Kentucky Derby goes back to the Derby Stakes in Britain, known here in the States as the Epsom Derby. The Epsom Derby was first run in 1780 and is the highest-purse horse race in Britain.
In 1873, Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. visited Europe, taking in the Epsom Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. He returned home to Louisville and organized the race now known as the Kentucky Derby, looking toward these races for inspiration for track design, race length and other details. When the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, Kentucky ladies wore their finest to the races, just as their British counterparts did. Of course, in those days, finery included a chapeau, and the tradition stuck.
These days, a Derby Hat is the first thing most ladies look for when they make place for the big race. Kate Welsh, co-owner of The Hat Girls, the Official Hat Designers of the Kentucky Derby Festival, says "Sixty percent of our business is custom work, which wasn’t in our original business plan. We find that, typically, a lady wants to pick out her clothes around the hat. Others want a custom design made from dresses they’ve already picked out."
Of course, there's a fine line between a dramatic hat and one that's too comfortable for race day wear. Kate Welsh says "We’re very honest with customers about what works for them. People try the hats on, and they don’t always realize that an adjustable hat brim only helps them so much. As designers, we try to limit how many feathers or sequins we add to the hat so thatit’s not sagging down into the customer’s face."
Rachel Bell, Ms. Welsh's Hat Girls partner, notes that their designs do strike a balance between practicality and flair. "But, at the same time, the hat usually is the focal point of the outfit."
Whether your preferred look is a practical fascinator or a show-stopping chapeau, you can thank the Derby's English roots -- and especially Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr's trip to Epsom -- for the tradition of Kentucky Derby Hats.
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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!}
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