For many of us, the excitement and glamour that takes place at Churchill Downs every year on Kentucky Derby Day is something we watch on TV and see in celebrity magazines. Ladies in infamous hats, men in dapper suites, the nation’s fastest thoroughbreds, and don’t forget mint juleps! This year, bring the Run for Roses to you with your very own Derby party—fancy suits and large hats optional!
Since the 1890’s the winner of the Derby has been given red roses. To this day, the Governor of Kentucky gifts the winning jockey and horse with sixty long-stem red roses, tied with over 10 yards of red ribbon. Red roses are the Kentucky Derby–try to incorporate them wherever possible. Use different sized silver vases, or pewter mint julep cups for red roses (fill in with red carnations if you are on budget.) If you have any extra ladies’ hats, or men’s derby-style hats, place them around the party on tabletops and cake stands. For the crafty, spray paint plastic toy horses from the party store shiny gold and use them as place cards, or name tags for foods on your buffet.
Staying in true traditional Derby style serve your guests pimento cheese toasts, crab cakes with a remoulade sauce, Burgoo (a Kentucky gumbo-like stew), and the popular “Hot Browns,” an open faced hot turkey sandwich with cheddar sauce and bacon. In order to keep these foods more accessible to a crowd dressed to the nines, consider serving all the foods in miniature sizes.
Derby pie is a must for any Derby party. The chocolate and walnut tart served in a pie shell has been a classic for the Derby since the 1950’s when it was developed at the Melrose Inn. While the original recipe is top-secret and still made to this day at what is now Kern’s Kitchen, there are some close recipes that can be found, like this one. Pecan pies and various mint julep flavored desserts, such as a light panna cotta, are always welcome on any Derby dessert table.
Mint Julep. Need we say more? The Mint Julep and The Kentucky Derby have been together for nearly a century and with good reason, the minty, refreshing, yet strong cocktail simply goes with horse racing on a spring day in the South. A traditional julep is easy to make and serve to guests (just prepare the simple syrup before hand). If you are feeling extra fancy there are many other variations on the mint julep, including blackberry, ginger-mint-pineapple, and blueberry. For a non-alcoholic option, have plenty of lemonade and southern sweet tea on hand.
May the best horse win!