culture, entertainment, food, life, pop culture, random thoughts, recipes

Derby week: ‘One Mint Julep’

Today’s post has a soundtrack: Ray Charles’ cover of the Clovers’ “One Mint Julep.” Play the embedded video, then scroll down and keep reading.

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, and at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Derby parties everywhere, people will try a mint julep because that’s what you’re supposed to drink on Derby Day.

Some people, out of kindness or maybe because they’re drunk, will say to love it, but others won’t, and they’ll quietly set down their glasses and ignore them the rest of the afternoon.

I was born in Kentucky, and, living in Lexington, I always enjoyed the traditions surrounding the Derby, but I tend to agree with an old newspaper man I knew who believed a mint julep is a terrible waste of good bourbon.

Juleps are a Southern thing, a concoction of bourbon, water, spearmint leaves and sugar. No one’s sure who invented it or when, but a Londoner who worked as a tutor on a Southern plantation wrote a book in 1803 and described the drink as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”

I suspect people drank mint juleps at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, but juleps didn’t really become a Derby tradition until Churchill Downs began selling souvenir mint julep glasses in 1938.

On paper, a mint julep sounds like it would work. You have bourbon, sugar, water and spearmint — not a bad ingredient in the bunch.

Mint juleps look good, too, when they’re done right. You’re supposed to serve mint juleps in silver cups filled with crushed ice; you stir the drink quickly to frost the cup and garnish with a mint sprig.

It really is a handsome drink.

Juleps aren’t especially handsome in those sweaty souvenir glasses at the Derby, and some purists would argue the things at Churchill Downs aren’t really juleps. By tradition, juleps are made of bourbon, but Churchill Downs has a contract with Early Times, which is technically a whisky, not a bourbon. Bourbon must be aged in new barrels, but Early Times is aged in used barrels. It may be a small distinction, but these things matter in Kentucky.

But a drink isn’t about the look. It’s about the taste, and this is where things fall apart.

Mint juleps aren’t awful. Once you find the sweet spot where the ingredients are balanced just right, they’re pretty good, but finding that sweet spot can be tricky. Not enough sugar and water, and it packs a wallop you’re not expecting from a supposedly genteel drink. Too much sugar and water, and it’s too sweet.

Here’s something else to consider: People in Kentucky only drink mint juleps at the races.

Once the Derby’s over, you’ll be hard pressed to find a mint julep anywhere in the commonwealth. In Kentucky, you know it’s spring because Kroger starts stocking fresh mint sprigs.

On Derby Day, if you really want to drink what the locals drink, have a sweet tea or a beer or a glass of wine.

But if you’re wondering, here’s how to make a mint julep:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 fresh mint sprigs for the syrup, plus extra for garnish
  • bourbon
  • crushed ice

Directions

  1. Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves
  2. Pour the syrup into a container with the mint sprigs and refrigerate overnight
  3. Fill a small cup with crushed ice
  4. Add a tablespoon of syrup and four tablespoons of bourbon and stir. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig
Photo by thp365 via Flickr.
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culture, entertainment, family, food, life, random thoughts, recipes

Pecan pie with chocolate chips and Kentucky bourbon: It’s a Derby thing

The Kentucky Derby is next Saturday — it’s always the first Saturday in May — and as a genuine Kentucky Colonel (I have a certificate from the governor to prove it), I feel a certain obligation to preserve and promote the rich traditions and heritage of the commonwealth of Kentucky.

So, I’m sharing my family recipe for what is generically known as chocolate pecan pie with bourbon.

It’s similar to a pie that’s sold commercially as Derby-Pie, but we can’t call it that, because Derby-Pie is a registered trademark of Kern’s Kitchen of Louisville, and they don’t like it when someone uses their trademark generically. I don’t blame them.

Whatever you call it, if you’re having a Derby party, you really should serve this.

Ingredients

  • 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips, more or less (I use a more)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, more or less (I use a more)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. With a mixer, whip the butter, sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla and bourbon together until frothy
  3. Spread the chocolate chips and pecans evenly on the bottom of the pie shell
  4. Pour the mixed ingredients into pie crust and back at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until set
  5. Let cool 30 minutes before serving (it’s good with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream)

Photo by gregoirvedb via Flickr

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Derby Week: No one else really likes mint juleps, either

Saturday is the Kentucky Derby, and at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Derby parties everywhere, people will try a mint julep because it’s a tradition to drink mint juleps on Derby Day.

Some people, out of kindness or perhaps because they’re already drunk, will claim to love it, but others will say, “Um, that’s not at all what I was expecting,” and quietly set their glasses down and hope no one notices because you don’t want to offend the host.

I was born in Kentucky, and I always enjoyed Derby Week, but I tend to agree with an old newspaper man I worked with years ago who believed a mint julep is a terrible waste of good bourbon.

Juleps are a Southern thing, a concoction of bourbon, water, spearmint leaves and sugar. No one’s sure who invented it or when, but a Londoner who worked as a tutor on a Southern plantation wrote a book in 1803 and described the drink as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.”

I suspect people drank mint juleps at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, but mint juleps didn’t really become a Derby tradition until Churchill Downs began selling souvenir mint julep glasses in 1938.

On paper, a mint julep sounds like it would work. You have bourbon, sugar, water and spearmint — not a bad ingredient in the bunch.

Mint juleps look good, too, when they’re done right (see above). You’re supposed to serve mint juleps in silver cups filled with crushed ice; you stir the drink quickly to frost the cup and garnish with a mint sprig.

It really is a handsome drink.

Juleps aren’t especially handsome in those sweaty souvenir glasses at the Derby, and some would argue they aren’t really juleps. By tradition, juleps are made of bourbon, but Churchill Downs has a contract with Early Times, which is technically a whisky, not a bourbon.

But a drink isn’t about the look. It’s about the taste, and this is where things fall apart.

Not enough sugar and water, and it packs a wallop you’re not expecting from a supposedly genteel drink. Too much sugar and water, and it’s too sweet. I suppose there’s a sweet spot, where the flavors are balanced just right, but I never bothered to find it.

People in Kentucky only drink mint juleps at the races. Once the Derby’s over, you’ll be hard pressed to find a mint julep anywhere in the commonwealth. There’s a reason Kroger doesn’t stock mint sprigs the rest of the year.

On Derby Day, if you really want to drink what the locals drink, have a sweet tea or a beer a glass of wine.

But if you’re wondering, here’s how to make a mint julep:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 fresh mint sprigs for the syrup, plus extra for garnish
  • bourbon
  • crushed ice

Directions

  1. Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves
  2. Pour the syrup into a container with the mint sprigs and refrigerate overnight
  3. Fill a small cup with crushed ice
  4. Add a tablespoon of syrup and four tablespoons of bourbon and stir. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig
Photo by travelingmcmahans via Flickr.
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