Derby Celebration: Traditional Kentucky Recipes

More than just a horse race, the Kentucky Derby, traditionally held the first Saturday in May, has been the opening event for Kentucky's Spring season for well over a hundred years. During the ten days preceding the Derby, there are hot air balloon races, steamboat races down the Ohio River, picnics, and parades; all wonderful reasons for parties and gatherings. There is also signature fashion for the Derby and of course food.

Traditional Kentucky Cooking

Like most regional cuisines, Kentucky's cooking has had many influences. Native Americans, there when the first settlers arrived, introduced corn and many of their uses for it with cornmeal, grits, and hominy. Settlers from the British Isles brought farming principles and techniques for preserving ham and distilling whiskey. African-Americans played an integral part in the development of Kentucky cuisine, serving as cooks in the South. Their use of unique seasonings, a variety of greens, and okra, all can be traced back to Africa.

Regional Cuisine in Kentucky

The varied regions of Kentucky have contributed their own unique foods and dishes to the state's culinary evolution. Louisville's influences come from its grand hotels, a mix of ethnic backgrounds, and foods associated with the Kentucky Derby. Central Kentucky has contributed its farm-style cooking, while the Appalachian Mountain region is known for its "country dishes", due to isolation and subsistence farming lifestyle. The Western part of the state is noted for its mutton barbecue.

Many of the fine regional dishes were refined in Kentucky inns. Some of the early inns are still in operation today. Bardstown's Old Talbott Tavern, Berea's Boone Tavern, and Harrodsburg's Beaumont Inn are a few examples. Restaurant dining, especially in Louisville and Lexington, has developed over the years to rival that of any other metropolitan area.

Notable Kentuckian Cooks

Many Kentuckians have contributed to the culinary arts. Duncan Hines was one of the first to compile a dining guide that became widely accepted and is probably most remembered for lending his name to one of the earliest cake mixes. Dean Fearing, from Ashland, wrote the cookbook Mansion on Turtle Creek and is widely regarded as the Chef responsible for starting many of the Southwestern food trends in America. Other authors like Camille Glenn, Cissy Gregg, and Marion Flexner have produced wonderful classic cookbooks, helping preserve the heritage of Kentucky cuisine.

Derby Day Kentucky Recipes

Whether you are having friends over, or are invited to a party to watch the event, making food to eat during the Kentucky Derby is always fun and delicious!

Here are some of our picks for a Derby Day celebration, including some great Kentucky favorites and traditional recipes.

  • 01 of 07

    Kentucky Mint Julep

    Mint Julep in Derby Glasses
    Diana Rattray

    It wouldn't be much of a Derby celebration without frosty ice-cold mint juleps with Kentucky bourbon and fresh mint leaves.

  • 02 of 07

    The Hot Brown

    Kentucky Hot Brown
    Diana Rattray

    These delicious open-faced turkey sandwiches are a Kentucky tradition. Serve them with a wilted spinach salad, chips, fries, or a light soup.

  • 03 of 07

    Kentucky Jam Cake

    Kentucky Jam Cake
    Diana Rattray

    This delicious Kentucky cake is a spice cake made with the addition of blackberry jam and a cooked caramel frosting or cream cheese frosting.

  • 04 of 07

    Garlic Cheese Grits

    Garlic Cheese Grits
    Diana Rattray

    Cheese grits are a favorite in Kentucky, as they are throughout the South.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Easy Chocolate Bourbon Truffles

    Easy Bourbon Truffles
    Diana Rattray

    Sweetened condensed milk makes these truffles quick and easy to prepare, and they can be made with a little more bourbon and less vanilla if desired.

  • 06 of 07

    Thoroughbred Pie

    Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie

    The Spruce

    This authentic Kentucky pie recipe was shared by Chef Nick Sundberg and Cathy Nichols, Pastry Chef for the famous Beaumont Inn.

  • 07 of 07

    Benedictine Dip or Spread

    Getty Images

    This spread can be used as a dip or a sandwich & canape ingredient. It was made popular at Louisville's Benedict's restaurant earlier in this century.