Made in Kentucky is about food and drink I use to introduce others to my culinary heritage. These are ties that bind me to roots formed from Native Cherokee, African American, Irish, Scottish, English and German immigrant recipes. They laid the foundation of Kentucky cuisine still evident today. They migrated to Kentucky via horse drawn wagon through the Cumberland Gap, up the Mississippi from New Orleans and down the Ohio on flatboats. Each group made their contribution to the food and drink I love and want to share with you.
Watching a show, I heard a child’s voice yell car! They were playing in the street as we did, with someone always on the lookout for oncoming vehicles. We were lucky to grow up when mama shooed you out of the house after breakfast and didn’t allow you back in until meal-time. Lunch frequently meant a slice of bologna or a smear of benedictine on white bread.
That benedictine sandwich is the only item here I remember eating as a child and that means I need to explain how I curated this list. These are things I learned to love as I grew older, traveled and lived throughout the state. Some are specialties, some Derby related, but combined are the essence of Kentucky.
Made In Kentucky
Any credible list of Kentucky food and beverage must begin with bourbon. It’s easily the single most recognizable Kentucky product and celebrated throughout the world. Today there are more than 10.5 million barrels of bourbon resting in rick-houses and that number is growing daily. It’s enough for more than 125 gallons for every man, woman and child in the state. The economic impact of employment and tax revenue is tremendous.
Although whiskey was not invented here, this is where it was perfected into the heavenly, corn based amber elixir we love. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S., but 95% of it, and the best is made in Kentucky. Enjoy it neat, over a rock or in a favorite cocktail like my Manhattan.
This cucumber and cream cheese sandwich spread was created in Louisville near the turn of the 19th century. Jennie Benedict Carter made it for use in her catering business and it’s my family’s favorite dip. You must travel to Louisville to buy it, but you can make it yourself using my recipe!
The Pie We Eat On Derby Day
The Kern Family created Derby Pie in 1954 at the Melrose Inn. Its primary ingredients are chocolate chips and walnuts in a pastry pie shell and is a very tasty confection. The recipe is a closely guarded secret and the name is trademarked.
Unfortunately, derby pie and its owners, the Kern Family Kitchen have also become famous, because they threaten legal action against individuals that post recipes and call them derby pie.
A trademark is a trademark, so I invite you to enjoy the recipe I call “The Pie We Eat on Derby Day” and you can find it HERE!
Rolled Oysters were created and popularized by the Mazzoni family. In 1884 at their saloon, you received a complimentary rolled oyster with the purchase of a beer or whiskey. They’re made with two or three fresh shucked oysters coated in a cracker-corn meal breading called pastinga and deep fried. It’s a baseball size meal, eaten with ketchup or cocktail sauce and washed down with a longneck beer. Imagine how much better that is compared to the stale peanuts or pretzel mix you get today. Learn how to make them HERE!
This is the signature dish of the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s an open faced sandwich made on toast with turkey, bacon and tomato slathered in mornay sauce. Created by their chef in 1926, it was meant to sate the appetite of guests after a night of ballroom dancing.
The hotel is still there, where the hot brown remains a very popular menu offering. You may travel and stay or just visit their dining room to taste one, but I have a better proposal. Use my recipe as your secret weapon of mass destruction for that leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Get it HERE!
This is a thick, well seasoned stew, traditionally made with wild game and vegetables. There’s not one, but infinite combinations of ingredients determined by what’s available. However, there are certain things all burgoo has in common.
There are always three different meats like squirrel, rabbit and deer or more exotic game like wild hog and raccoon. City-dwellers can make it with chicken, pork and beef and still call it burgoo!
There is no limit to vegetables, but beans, corn, potatoes, tomato, onions, cabbage and okra appear over and over in many recipes. It illustrates the variability found in burgoo. Meats are cooked first, veggies are added and finally ingredients like okra and potatoes are used as thickening agents needed to make a spoon stand straight up.
Burgoo in all its glorious forms is a Kentucky tradition with roots in the 18th century and has survived to the present day. Try some of this and get my recipe HERE!
Technically speaking this is cornbread, because it’s made with cornmeal, but a strikingly different style. It has a custard or souffle-like consistency and sweet flavor. Why is it called spoonbread? Well, it’s because you serve and eat it with a spoon!
Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky serves the definitive example of spoonbread and if you have the chance to dine there don’t pass it up. For the rest of us we make it ourselves, using their recipe. If you want to give it a try, here’s a link to my HOME RECIPE.
The Mint Julep is the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby and they’re sold by the thousands each year on the first Saturday in May. Unless you are well heeled enough to drink on millionaire’s row, avoid having yours at a bar for the masses. Make yours at home using my cousin Bill’s recipe and you will discover how good they can really be. Here’s the link!
Kentucky Country Ham
The origins of country ham are found in Italy’s proscuitto and Spanish iberico hams. They are dry aged and cured unlike wet, brine cured city hams. The flavor is bold and complex, determined by the cure mixture and length of aging that may include the “summer sweats”.
Kentucky country hams are salt cured with some sugar and optional spices chosen by the producer. Some are cold smoked while aging and the combination of water loss and salt content make them shelf stable. You can make them at home, but it’s a lot easier to buy from a professional. Each year I make a pilgrimage to tiny Princeton, Kentucky to buy one at Col. Newsom’s Country Store for a delicious hand made beauty!
I prefer it in paper thin slices or slapped on a biscuit with some of my sweet and spicy butter pickles on the side. There’s nothing like the taste of artisanal Kentucky country ham.
The Kentucky legislature in its wisdom, decreed Clark County, Kentucky as the birthplace of beer cheese. If you dig a little deeper you will find it’s a case of geographical misappropriation. It is true however, that there is where it was popularized.
Regardless, it’s a Kentucky favorite. You can read the whole story and get my recipe HERE!
There are many styles of barbeque found throughout Kentucky including wet or dry, made with chicken, pork and beef. There is one however, that’s rarely found and its culinary epicenter is the Western Kentucky city of Owensboro. Here they pay homage to sheep, where mutton is served front center and no, it’s not a frat house hazing ritual!
Like other cuts of meat you can buy ribs or have it sliced, chopped or chipped. If you’re not familiar with chipped it takes chopped to another level, reducing it to a fine texture that when combined with sauce creates what is best described as a dip or spread.
The taste of mutton is bold, with a slightly gamey flavor not for the timid. If you find yourself in Owensboro stop at the Moonlite for a taste, if you’re game for it!
Last, but not least it’s time to recognize the non-alcoholic beverage created in Winchester, Kentucky. The name is most often shortened to Ale-8 and it’s a ginger-citrus flavored soda developed in 1926 by G.L. Wainscott. He held a naming contest and the winner was “A Late One”. The phrase was 1920’s slang for the latest thing and Ale-8-1 is a play on words of the original entry.
You don’t have to travel far for this treat. It’s available at a Cracker Barrel Country Store near you!