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A Taste of the Derby

A Taste of the Derby

Some spectators scream, some hold their breath, but no one looks away. After all, the Kentucky Derby horse race is known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” Whether you agree or not, we think the exceptionally confident tagline is just asking for a celebration! Two minutes might not seem like much to center a party around, but we’ve got fun and easy tips for throwing a Derby party that’ll have your friends doling out compliments in record time.

Held annually in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May, this year marks the 141st running of the Derby. The high-stakes event, watched the world over, boasts a colorful history of longstanding records, amazing upsets, heartbreaking losses and quirky superstitions. So gather your friends and raise your (Pyrex) glasses in a toast to the gorgeous thoroughbreds and the tradition of this superlative sprint.


It’s believed that Churchill Downs founder and president, Col. M. Lewis Clark, chose the rose as the race’s official flower after attending a post-Derby party where roses were given to the ladies in attendance. The rose theme caught on: In 1896, the winning jockey was presented with a bouquet of roses; in 1925, sports columnist Bill Corum, later the president of Churchill Downs, coined the term “Run for the Roses”; and in 1932, the first garland of red roses was draped over the winning horse. To this day, the horse is still presented with a beautiful blanket of over 400 fresh red roses while the jockey receives a huge bouquet of 60 long-stemmed roses. Because of this, the Derby is often referred to as “The Run for the Roses.”

Keep the tradition alive by adding roses to your decor: Fill silver mint julep cups with snipped blooms, place long-stemmed blossoms into a pair of riding boots or simply scatter petals on your tabletops.

  • KENTUCKY HOT BROWN. You can’t do a Derby party without the delicious Kentucky Hot Brown, an open-face sandwich made with turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. The Brown Hotel in Louisville lays claim to the original Hot Brown, but today you can find all kinds of modern variations. Search online for ways to make it a bake or whip up some tasty mini bites, or check out this classic recipe by Chica and Jo at Tasty Kitchen.
  • BENEDICTINE SPREAD. Named for Louisville caterer and restaurateur Jennie Carter Benedict, Benedictine Spread (or simply Benedictine), is a light yet flavorful mixture of cucumbers and cream cheese. Originally used in making cucumber sandwiches, it combines well with meats for a heartier sandwich or makes an easy, versatile dip for crackers and veggies.
  • BURGOO. This spicy stew is a Kentucky favorite, so whip up a batch if you’re really looking to get down and Derby. Find your favorite version online—it’ll likely include several meats, tomatoes, beans and veggies, as well as spices and hot sauce. Your friends will love the hearty Southern flavor, especially if you serve it with cornbread to sop up every last bit.
    • PRETTY PONY PIE. The original Derby Pie® , trademarked by Kerns Company, consists of a mix of chocolate chips, walnuts and other well-guarded “secret ingredients” (really!). With lots of strong contenders on Pinterest and cooking websites, you can easily find a must-make version or inspiration to spur on your sweet tooth. Popular tweaks include adding a splash of Kentucky bourbon or swapping pecans for the walnuts.
    • TRIPLE CROWN CUTOUTS. Style up simple sugar cookies in Derby-inspired shapes. Go online or check specialty stores to find cookie cutters shaped like roses, hats, horses and horseshoes, then get creative and frost them with flair!

    The traditional drink of the Derby, the venerable Mint Julep, mixes freshly muddled mint and sugar with smooth Kentucky bourbon. Make a big batch in a PYREX® 8-CUP MEASURING CUP WITH RED LID, then cover and let it sit in the fridge for several hours to let the flavors mingle. Keep it classic by serving this race day must-have over cracked ice in a silver mint julep glass with a sprig of mint and a short straw.


    • HATS MATTER. They can range from simple and off-the-rack to grandiose and handmade, but a fun and festive topper is a MUST on Derby Day! Get your guests into the competitive spirit by offering prizes for the best Derby hat. Need some inspiration? Get tips on how to make your own from Style Blueprint. And keep in mind that the fascinator, a chic headpiece usually attached to a band or clip, is another on-trend option.
    • SIPS SANS THE SAUCE. Bourbon can be an acquired taste or simply too strong for some, so be sure to mix up some nonalcoholic Mint Juleps for those who aren’t fans or abstain.
    • SHOW YOUR TRUE COLORS. Spread satiny fabrics or scarves around to mimic the brilliant hues of the racing silks, or keep it soft and decorate your space with seersucker accents. The lightweight striped fabric comes in nearly every pastel hue imaginable!

    Whether you hold true to the Derby traditions or add a little modern flair, keep in mind that the history is half the fun. Let the classic look and taste of Kentucky inspire your party planning, and victory will be yours!

    YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite Derby tradition? What special touches make it your own?