The first Saturday in May did not mean much to me prior to my time in Kentucky. Now, I can’t imagine letting the day pass without observing the traditions I picked up in the Bluegrass. We have loved sharing the pomp and circumstance with our new friends in North Carolina and now Boston. We look forward to a yearly tradition.
The first, and arguably most important, consideration when planning a derby party is the mint julep. I have used this recipe for the “Perfect Mint Julep.” This is a recipe that must be started the night before the party to allow the flavors to marry. In general, I use Maker’s Mark for the Julep’s as its a bit less expensive, but still good quality. The day of the party, all you have to do is pour the pre-made juleps over ice and add a sprig of mint and a straw!
We also like to have an assortment of bourbons for guests to try. These were arranged on our dining table beside our mint julep garnishes. I was excited to find a use for my grandmother’s crystal sugar bowl and creamer (nuts and mint, pictured below), since we don’t drink coffee.
The drinks were kept on our dining table (behind the couch, pictured below) and the food was arranged on our coffee table. The Derby is also called “The Run for the Roses,” so red roses in julep cups were used to decorate the table.
Our food spread was also traditionally Southern. The menu consisted of NPR-sactioned pimento cheese on sandwiches and cucumber slices and Kentucky hot-brown bites. Hot Browns are a traditional Kentucky sandwich (open face turkey with bacon, tomatoes, and mornay sauce) that originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Fun fact: the fictional Daisy and Tom Buchanan (of the Great Gatsby) were married at the Brown Hotel. The linked recipe used crescent rolls baked in my mini-muffin tin and was (in my opinion) SOOO delicious! For dessert, we my mother-in law’s bourbon balls. Here’s the recipe:
Ingredients: 1 cup chopped walnuts, 5 tablespoons Bourbon, 1/2 cup of soft butter, 16oz confectioner’s sugar, and 18oz semi-sweet chocolate (I use Ghiradelli)
Steps: Mix butter, sugar, nuts, and bourbon. Roll into small balls and refrigerate overnight on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. The next day, melt chocolate in a double-boiler and dip the balls. Allow the balls to sit in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.
The party itself was really fun! We were nervous about inviting too many people into our small apartment, but overall it went smoothly. I recommend betting as a means to get people that don’t particularly care about horse racing to get into the action. Betting can be confusing, so we minimize this by having guests pick their horses our of a hat ($1 per horse). The person with the winning horse takes the pot!