Serve Kentucky inspired dishes for watching the Derby

Photo by Ann Cipperly

By Ann Cipperly

On the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby is often referred to as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” Since the first race in 1875, the event has been a time for offering hospitality. Whether you are having guests to watch the race or not, treat your family to a few special dishes for the event. 

In Louisville, Kentucky, southern hospitality abounds with parties before the “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs. On race day, many traditional dishes are served, as ladies sport new hats, many elaborate in their designs.  

The biggest Kentucky Derby party in our area is held at Storybook Farm in Opelika. This is its largest fundraiser of the year and a fun annual event. The 13th Derby event will be held this Saturday with lots of food and fun supporting the children of Storybook Farm. Check to see if tickets are still available for this year, but if not be sure to mark your calendar for this event next year.

Sylvia Norris and her late husband Dwight Norris hosted Derby parties for years and donated thousands of dollars to local charities. Their two daughters and their husbands, Karen and Tom McCauley and Carmen and Matt Jordan, were co-hostesses. Try a few of the Sylvia’s tasty recipes, along with Carmen’s Derby Pie.

Traditional Derby favorites include Country Ham and Biscuits, Kentucky Hot Browns and Benedictine Sandwiches.

The hot brown sandwich was created in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt, a chef at Louisville’s Brown Hotel. Traditionally, the sandwich is made with slices of turkey and tomatoes topped with cheese sauce and bacon on toasted bread.

I am including two hot brown recipes, Carol’s Mini Hot Browns and Kentucky Hot Browns. Years ago, the late Mary Samford gave me the Hot Browns recipe when I was writing an article on her husband, Yetta. Mary and I started talking about recipes, and, of course, I told Mary I would really like to have some of her recipes.

About two days later I came home to find a huge stack of recipes by my door that Mary had printed for me. She was always so gracious. Mary and Yetta did so much for our community, and they are greatly missed. 

Another famous dish from Louisville, Benedictine spread, is said to have been created by Jennie Carter Benedict, a restaurateur and cookbook author in Louisville. She began catering in 1893 and opened a restaurant and tearoom called Benedict’s in 1900. It is believed that she invented the spread while she was catering.

Benedictine spread is simply made by combining cucumber with cream cheese, onion juice and seasonings. Some recipes call for a few drops of green food coloring. It can be served in sandwiches or as a dip with raw vegetables.

Biscuits filled with country ham are popular food served in Louisville for the Derby. To serve on your menu, you can use baked or deli ham. Homemade biscuits are the best, but if you don’t have time, try the smaller frozen buttermilk biscuits. 

For dessert, serve the Derby Pie, Derby Tarts or Chocolate Sour Cream Cake. While the cake is probably not popular at Derby parties in Kentucky, your family will like it, and it is a better choice if you are serving children.

When I baked the cake pictured, I borrowed a horseshoe shaped pan. It can also be baked in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. If you garnish with red roses, be sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides.

While the classic drink for the Derby is a Mint Julep served in a silver cup, you can make a good mock version with equal amounts of apple juice and ginger ale. Garnish with lots of fresh mint if you have it.

When watching the Kentucky Derby, we are reminded of Secretariat, who won in 1973 in the fastest time to date and went on to win the Triple Crown for the first time in 25 years. We have an interest in horses since our granddaughters have a love for them. We wish our granddaughters could have been with us when we saw one of Secretariat’s granddaughters at the Red Horse Inn outside Greenville, South Carolina.

Whether you are a fan of the Derby or not, it can be fun to plan special dishes for your family to enjoy. Ann Cipperly can be reached at

Ham and Biscuits

While country ham and biscuits are traditional at the Derby, you can serve baked or deli ham for your menu.  

Country ham, baked ham, or deli ham, sliced

Biscuits, homemade (recipes follow) or frozen tea biscuits


Prepare one of the following recipes for Buttermilk Biscuits. Slice biscuits, spread mustard on slices, and fill with ham of choice. For a neat appearance, cut the ham with the cutter used for the biscuits.

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits

Connie King
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2¼ cups buttermilk
3 cups self-rising flour
In a mixing bowl, sift flour. Add buttermilk and vegetable oil. Mix well.
Place a sheet of wax paper (about two ft long) on counter and place three cups flour on top in a mound. Pour buttermilk into middle of flour and sprinkle flour all over dough. Knead dough softly.
Tear off palm-sized pieces at a time and knead back and forth in hands until biscuit shape forms. Then place in oiled baking pan side by side. Continue until pan is full or until dough is gone.
Dab oil on top of biscuits with a spoon for browning.
Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes.

Angel Buttermilk Biscuits

Ruby Prophitt


Dough will keep in refrigerator as long as a week.

5 cups sifted self-rising flour

⅓ cup sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup shortening (Crisco)

2 pkg. yeast dissolved in ¼ cup luke-warm water

2 cups whole buttermilk

Combine flour, soda, and sugar; cut in shortening; stir yeast mixture into buttermilk and mix into dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well. Keep covered in refrigerator at least an hour or two before using.

Gently knead on lightly floured surface. Roll out approximately ½” thick and cut as desired. Place on greased pan. Let rise for 2 hours. Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. Makes about two dozen.

Kentucky Hot Browns

The late Mary Samford gave me this recipe years ago when I was writing about her husband Yetta.

Cheese Sauce:

4 Tbsp. butter

3 Tbsp. flour

2 cups milk, warmed

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, divided

1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Few dashes Tabasco


4 slices toast, trimmed and cut in triangles

1 lb. turkey slices

4 slices ham

4 slices tomatoes, halved

8 strips bacon, partially cooked

To make sauce, melt butter in pan. Add flour and stir well. Add milk, stirring until smooth. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan, cheddar cheese, and seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly until thick.

Place toast on baking sheet. Arrange turkey slices and ham on toast and cover with hot cheese sauce. Top with tomato and bacon. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top.

Bake at 425 degrees until bubbly. Mary baked the sandwiches in individual ramekins. Serves four.

Carol’s Mini Kentucky Hot Browns

24 pumpernickel party rye bread slices

6 Tbsp. butter

6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. salt

1½ cups chopped cooked turkey

6 cooked bacon slices, crumbled

4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced

Toast bread slices under broiler for 3 to 4 minutes; set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat; add flour, whisking constantly until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add cheddar cheese, Worcestershire and salt, stirring until cheese melts.

Top bread evenly with chopped turkey and cheese sauce. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Place tomato slices and bacon on top.

Benedictine Sandwiches

Sylvia Norris

1 medium cucumber

1 small onion, quartered

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

1/2 tsp. salt

1 drop green food coloring, optional


Thin-sliced white bread

Parsley or watercress for garnish

Peel cucumber and slice in half lengthwise; remove seeds with a small spoon. Place cucumber and cream cheese in food processor and pulse about five times until cucumber is minced. Do not drain. Place cucumber and liquid into a small glass-mixing bowl.

With a round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut rounds out of the bread slices. Spread a small amount of mayonnaise on bread rounds. Spread cheese mixture on half rounds and top with another round. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or watercress. Makes 25 sandwiches.

Deviled Eggs

Sylvia Norris

10 eggs

1 tsp. salt to water

1-1½ Tbsp. mayonnaise

1½ tsp. mustard

1 tsp. pickle relish

1 tsp. grated onion

1 tsp. diced celery

½ tsp. black pepper

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. paprika

Start eggs in cool water with salt. Bring to boil slowly. Boil 10 minutes (or until cooked). Drain water off. Crack eggs by tossing in pan. Run over with cold water. Slice eggs in half long ways.

Spoon out yolks into a bowl. Mix all remaining ingredients together and spoon back into egg white halves. Sprinkle with extra paprika. Chill and serve. Serves 20.

Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin in Biscuits

Can prepare ahead.

¾ cup honey

6 Tbsp. brown sugar

6 Tbsp. cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. paprika

4 pork tenderloins

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

Small biscuits or yeast rolls

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first five ingredients; blend well. Place pork on greased cookie sheet with a rim; season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over pork.

Bake for 40 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove pork to platter; let rest 15 minutes before slicing.

Heat pan drippings in saucepan until thickened, stirring often. Serve pork with sauce in biscuits or yeast rolls.

Cheddar Biscuits with Ham

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

¾ cup buttermilk

1/3 to ½ cup green onions, chopped


½ pound thinly sliced ham of your choice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal; stir in cheese. Add buttermilk and onions; mix well.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to ½ inch thickness and cut with biscuit cutter. Bake on greased sheets about 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Slice rolls, spread with butter and fill with sliced ham. Can be prepared ahead. When ready to serve, bake in a 350-degree oven for five minutes or until just warm.

Debra’s Derby Tarts

¼ cup butter, softened

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 Tbsp. bourbon or 2 tsp. vanilla

½ cup chocolate chips

1 cup finely chopped pecans

36 mini phyllo tart shells

Combine butter and brown sugar; beat until smooth. Add egg and bourbon; beat well. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans.

Arrange tart shells on lightly greased baking sheet. Spoon mixture into shells. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Makes three dozen.

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

1 cup water

1 cup butter

¼ cup cocoa

2 eggs, beaten

½ cup sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla

Chocolate Frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, flour, soda, and salt in a large bowl; mix well and set aside.

Combine water, butter, and cocoa in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Gradually stir hot mixture into flour mixture; beat well. Stir in eggs and sour cream, mixing well. Pour into a greased and floured 9×13-inch pan (or horseshoe mold) and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Spread Chocolate Frosting over cake. Freezes well.

Chocolate Frosting

½ cup butter

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk

5 Tbsp. cocoa

16 oz. box powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, milk and cocoa in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add remaining ingredients; beat until frosting is smooth.

Derby Pie

Carmen Jordan

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1 Tbsp. bourbon (or 1 tsp. vanilla)

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 prepared 8-inch piecrust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread chocolate chips and nuts in bottom of pie shell.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Mix in flour. Beat eggs slightly, and mix into creamed mixture. Stir in bourbon. Pour filling into pie shell over chips and nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. 

Ruth Parrent’s Cheese Straws

Katy Leonard

1½ sticks butter

1 lb. New York sharp cheddar cheese

2 ½ cups all-purpose sifted flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. paprika

2 tsp. red pepper

Let butter and cheese come to room temperature; grate cheese. Blend the cheese and butter completely together by hand; in a separate bowl mix the rest of the dry ingredients.

Gradually work the dry ingredients into the cheese and butter (this is usually done best kneading with hands). Once all of the dry ingredients have been blended into the dough place the dough into a cheese straw or cookie press.

Bake on a very lightly greased cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees until done (lightly brown at edges). Cool cheese straws on wax paper. Can be frozen after baking.

Fresh Fruit with Creamy Dip

Assorted fresh fruit of choice

Creamy Dip:
8-oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Soften cream cheese and then whip with powdered sugar. Whip cream and sugar together until it forms soft peaks. Combine beaten cream cheese, whipped cream, lemon juice and zest; continue to beat until smooth.


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