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Make Derby Day Your Day


Over the past 144 years the Derby has taken on many traditions. Women who attend the event in Louisville wear large and extravagant hats. Several appetizers, main dishes and desserts have been created just for the big day. And for our purposes, the greatest tradition of all may be the mint julep, which is the Derby beverage of choice. With a base of Kentucky bourbon and a sprig of mint, it has come to symbolize the dreams of all who endure winter in hopes of spring, and it is delicious.

Also, there is a horse race.

For your Derby party, all invitees will be expecting a mint julep or two. It’s a good idea to have the original recipe available, but we also offer a list of alternatives for the adventurous and those not yoked to tradition. You will also find ideas and recipes for appetizers and main dishes. They won’t outshine your juleps but many of your guests may remember the savory bite of Ham with Parsley-Mustard Sauce or the tang of Mint Julep Dip long after they have forgotten which horse won the race. 


Let’s start with the drinks

Nothing is as refreshing on race day as a traditional Mint Julep, which features a spoonful of sugar or sugar syrup along with the bourbon and mint over crushed ice. Traditionalists drink their juleps only from a frosty sterling silver julep cup, but glass or plastic works just fine, too.

With the race running annually for nearly 150 years, there has been plenty of time to create variations on the original drink. The Chocolate Mint Julep substitutes crème de cacao for sugar.

Some drinkers find that bourbon just doesn’t provide a full experience. The solution: Add champagne!

In deference to your friends who don’t drink but wish to look sophisticated as they mingle, here is a non-alcoholic Mint Julep. It includes lemonade, so you can also serve it to any kids who tag along with their parents.

Appetizers with a Kentucky flair

Start with Mint Julep Dip, which has been described as a child of happy hour and the dessert course. This recipe suggests serving with grilled doughnuts but pita chips would work great, too.

Baby Hot Browns is a variation of a traditional Derby dish, with a mixture of melted cheddar and turkey chunks sitting on bite-sized pumpernickel toasts.

Brown sugar and brown butter pecans are an easy-to-make and easy-to-eat snack while your guests wait for the main course.

Heading to the finish line

If you are dedicated to gourmet home cooking, you might like to impress your friends by offering Bourbon Pulled Pork from your own kitchen, served on biscuits that you made from scratch. Or you could buy pulled-pork from the freezer case, defrost, pile it high on hamburger buns and buy a bottle of bourbon sauce for dipping. Only your most discerning friends will know the difference.

Martha Stewart created this course of ham with parsley-mustard sauce, a good option if you want to wow your most sophisticated friends.

When you bring out the Kentucky Mint Julep Cake for dessert, you will be declared the winner.

And while the drinks and food will be the star of your party, don’t forget to clear space around the television. There is a race going on, after all.