The famed Palm Beach clothing designer's ties to the Kentucky DerbyRead More
Bourbon balls are one of my very favorite Kentucky traditions. They remind me of holidays with my family; my great-aunt Marie always made bourbon balls using the exact same recipe that I use to this day. I always think of bourbon balls as a Christmas treat, or something to savor at the end of a bourbon distillery tour. I only recently learned that a lot of people make bourbon balls as a Derby treat as well. This morning, I picked up a bourbon ball donut from Thorntons' new #ThorntonsBourbonKitchen line, and it was fabulous!
If you're in the mood for a bourbon ball, my recipe is below, or you can just pick up one of those donuts at Thortons for 99 cents. It's the same flavor with a lot less effort! And let me know -- do y'all think of bourbon balls as a Derby time treat?
- 1 to 2 cups good bourbon whiskey
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 to 1 cup whole pecan halves (optional)
- 1 two-pound bag of powdered sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 bags Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips
- paraffin wax
- Place 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped pecans in shallow bowl. Pour bourbon over nuts, immersing completely. Cover and let soak 12 hours to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves in shallow pan and toast lightly for about ten minutes.
- Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Combine bourbon-pecan mixture with powdered sugar to form a stiff ball. Refrigerate to let stiffen slightly.
- Roll dough into small balls.
- In double-boiler (or a sauce pan placed over a cooker full of boiling water), add a third to a half a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a small shaving of paraffin wax (no more than 1/4 cup). Heat until just smooth. Dip dough balls into the chocolate mixture. The key is to coat them quickly and make small, frequent batches of melted chocolate.
- Place bourbon balls on wax paper to cool. Top each with a toasted pecan half, if desired. Results are better if you leave them to cool at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.
Yields between six and seven dozen bourbon balls.
The most famous dessert of the Kentucky Derby!Read 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.
Over the weekend, several folks sent me links to an article about the Dartmouth Sorority who cancelled their annual Kentucky Derby Party. The story goes that the sisters of Kappa Delta Epsilon, a local sorority at Dartmouth College, has traditionally held an annual Derby-themed spring party, but decided to cancel this year's event because their 2015 Derby party was met with Black Lives Matter protesters who claimed that the event promoted racial inequality. The KDE chapter voted almost unanimously to opt for a Woodstock-themed party this year because, in the words of the chapter president, a Derby party is "related to pre-war southern culture.”
Now, after four years as a sorority girl and more years than I can count as a sorority alumna adviser, I can tell you that the politics of these things are generally so Byzantine and Machiavellian that they'd make Thomas Cromwell's head spin. It seems that KDE is actually already under suspension for alcohol and conduct reasons, so it makes sense that they'd want to toe the line with university officials; flying under the radar certainly seems advisable in those particular circumstances.
I don't care to engage in the argument that these Ivy League sorority women need to spend a little more time studying their history. (The first Kentucky Derby took place ten years after the end of the Civil War.) I will, instead, quote my own sorority sister who also happens to be a Harvard Law grad: "I assume the sorority had no idea how to throw a Derby Party." (Maybe they got their inspiration from a Mad Men episode, rather than an actually Derby event...)
The sad truth is that Ivy Leaguers in New Hampshire probably don't really get what the Kentucky Derby is all about. As a Kentuckian who loves all things Louisville and Derby-related, it is heartbreaking and infuriating for me to think of the First Saturday in May engendering connotations of racial injustice or inequality. In fact, one of the things I've always loved about the Kentucky Derby is the way that the Falls City, with a whole lot of help from the Kentucky Derby Festival Committee, creates a multi-week celebration for Louisvillians of all socioeconomic backgrounds. You may not have the means to sit on Millionaires Row, but you can certainly take in the Balloon Race, the Thunder Fireworks, or the Pegasus Parade for free. You can dine at the Chow Wagon on a quite limited budget, and infield tickets to the race itself are affordable for most anyone who wants the experience. Derby may be billed as the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports, but for Louisvillians, the party goes on for weeks and is open to all.
Even more importantly, the Derby community gives back in a meaningful way. I recently sat in a room of volunteers who were planning fundraisers for the Backside Learning Center. These folks -- racing industry insiders, Thoroughbred owners, and even a celebrated former jockey -- were donating their time and resources to help improve the quality of life for backside workers and their families. The BLC's Derby Party for the Backside -- the only opportunity for the grooms, assistant trainers, and other folks who live on site and provide daily care for the horses to enjoy a Derby-season party -- was deemed THE Derby party of the year.
Here in Kentucky, Derby is for everybody. You can buy a Derby glass for $3 at Kroger and watch the race on TV, or you can sit in luxury boxes. You can celebrate in style, or simply sing along with My Old Kentucky Home. There are little girls in my neighborhood who always set up a "mint julep" mocktail stand on Derby morning, dressed in their Sunday best. I hope the sisters of KDE read up on how to throw a more appropriate Derby party, and I hope that everyone gets to experience Louisville in May at least once; it's the best party you'll ever attend!
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!}