Throw a Derby party

julepI see countless “How to Host a Derby Bash” posts around this time of year, written by hapless New Yorkers who have never even set foot in Kentucky, with no clue how vital the nuances and novelties of this tradition truly are.

Allow me to educate you on how to throw an authentic–if Dootsified–Derby party.

  • Skip the julep : I don’t know anyone who actually relishes the taste of a mint julep. The silver cups are iconic, but the taste is one to be acquired. Instead, take your (Kentucky) bourbon neat. If you need a twist, mix with hand-crushed ice and sweet tea with a squeeze of lemon. Or go with an Old Fashioned–it was born in Kentucky, too.
  • Copyright pie : While the name of this pie is copyrighted, it’s a delicious mix of walnuts and chocolate. The best recipes include a splash of bourbon (might I suggest bourbon whipped cream?)
  • Hats : The hat isn’t just a quaint add-on to an already over-the-top day. It’s a necessity. Forget the hat and you might as well be at some other nameless, pointless horse race.
  • Hot browns : It’s fitting to nosh on the dish that has roots solidly in Louisville. It’s the unofficial state dish, and it’s decadent. Bacon and mornay sauce make this a heavy choice. Some people try to trot this classic out at brunch, but I say it’s much more fitting in smaller portions as an appetizer at dinner. But I’ll let you judge your crowd best.
  • “Bet” for charity : Put out jars for each horse in the running and have everyone drop a donation to a local charity in the jar of the horse they’d bet on. There’s no winner, but there’s never a loser.
  • But DO bet : You can totally bet by any internet connection from anywhere in the world. You do have to enter your Social Security Number (GROAN) but it’s always fun to have money riding on the ponies.
  • Roses, red : It’s called “The Run for the Roses” for goodness sakes! The winning horse is draped with a garland of red roses. I feel like it’s a piece of the Derby tradition that is lost on outsiders. Roses work their way into outfits, hats and décor.
  • Benedictine : Perfect for crackers, veggies or bread, this cucumber cream cheese spread is easy to make and a local tradition. It’s like tzatziki for weirdos.
  • Stick horse race : The Derby infield is a very different party. It’s muddy, it’s drunk, it’s a little off-the-rails. Keep up that spirit with a stick horse race. Provide stick horses, or have everyone make their own. Set a course and have at it. Dizzy or drunk stick horse racing is great fun for adults.

Regional Differences

Recently, we were discussing regional food differences.

I was born and raised in Kentucky.  While the South isn’t sure they claim us and the North doesn’t want us, we self-identify as Southern.  And who would argue?  There’s a distinct Kentucky drawl and some very Southern cookin’ going on.  We have some regional dishes–the hot brown is a notable one.

My boyfriend is from Connecticut.  While he’s not from the CT vacation home by way of New York, he’s definitely a New Englander.  Gravies of all sorts were foreign fare for him.  He’d never really had good biscuits.  His food experience included a heck of a lot more seafood than mine.  He’s used to having access to plenty of breads from all meals.  He’s a lot more familiar with spice.  He’s a hot dog snob.  CT is also the birthplace of steamed hamburgers, which he’s made for me a time or two.  Nevermind all the fast food he never had access to in his teeny tiny state (seven Connecticuts would fit in one Kentucky.)

I forget that there are people who’ve never had biscuits (and I’m not talkin’ cookies here.)  I forget that some people don’t know the so-so-bad-for-you joy of sausage gravy.  Hoecakes?  Grits?  Fried apples?  And that’s just breakfast!  Nevermind burgoo, beer cheese and Derby Pie.