It's Derby Time: A How-To Derby Guide
The horses are fun to watch, but the parties make the memories.
It’s got horses and jockeys. It’s got a racetrack and odds. It’s been dubbed the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” and it’s the reason for some of the most elaborate parties in the country.
On Saturday, May 7, the 137th Kentucky Derby will take place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. While the jockeys are busy perfecting their gate-exiting technique, regular folk will be busy planning their Derby celebrations.
Here are the ingredients for a fantastic Derby throw-down:
According to the official Kentucky Derby website, the mint julep has been a tradition for almost 100 years. “Each year,” the website claims, “almost 120,000 Early Times Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. This is a feat that requires over 10,000 bottles of Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.”
If you can’t find the famous Early Times ready-made kind, you can make some of your own with this recipe (taken from www.drinksmixer.com):
4 fresh mint sprigs
2.5 oz bourbon whisky
1 tsp powdered sugar
2 tsp water
Muddle mint leaves, powdered sugar, and water in a Collins glass. Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice and add bourbon. Top with more ice and garnish with a mint sprig. Serve with a straw.
Judy Jones, the manager of Blanchard’s Wine and Spirits in Hyannis, is expecting people to come in for the sole purpose of stocking up for their Derby parties. “I already ordered more Kentucky bourbon,” she said.
The crazy, outlandish hats have become a trademark of the Kentucky Derby. There is even the Derby Hat Parade, during which Derby-goers show off their style. KentuckyDerby.com writes: “[p]art Southern tradition, part spectacle, the Kentucky Derby hat parade is much of what makes ‘The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports’ one of the greatest people-watching events in the world! From the fantastic to the sublime, there are no rules or limits when it comes to choosing your Derby hat."
Many Derby party attendees are decorating their own hats. An associate at Michael’s crafts store said that women have been coming in looking to do beach-themes for their hats, and have been buying a lot of seashells and brightly colored ribbons.
West Barnstable resident Kiley Donovan said that she “just moved back to the Cape from Brooklyn, where the Kentucky Derby is one of many great excuses to have an elaborate 'gala'. There, I didn't have room for all those hats and glamorous lawn-lounging, so now that I have a yard (although a teeny one), I'm excited to start the tradition.”
As far as the hats go, Donovan is “hoping my friends get really creative. My friend Michelle Law (artist and curator at Cotuit Center for the Arts and Centerville Historical Museum) had a great idea for an antipasto platter hat -- I would love to see crazy ideas like that. If enough people come through on the hat front, we will have a Best Hat at the Derby contest.”
If you’re not feeling creative, you can always find your perfect hat at Vineyard Vines, which is based in Connecticut and is, as it turns out, the “Official Style of the Kentucky Derby.”
You can find the hats at the Vineyard Vines stores in Edgartown and Boston. (The store on Nantucket isn’t open yet and the store at Mashpee Commons didn’t order any.)
Southern Sides, Main Dishes and Desserts
Of course, any party needs great food. A Derby party needs great Southern-style food. KentuckyDerby.com suggests starting out with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Spread and Shrimp and Grits with Red Eye Gravy.
From there, move on to Andouille sausage and black-eyed peas, grilled swordfish, and lobster macaroni and cheese with truffle oil with a side of sweet potato hash.
At her party, Donovan is serving “cucumber tea sandwiches, pulled pork, deviled eggs, and other Southern style snacks.”
And for your sweet tooth? Pecan pie, pumpkin cheesecake, apple spice cupcakes—all of these are traditional Southern desserts that you will find at the twin-spired Churchill Downs on the days of the Derbys.
Olive Chase, owner of The Casual Gourmet in Centerville, said that “no one has ordered their Chess Pie yet,” but that, in past years, people have called in their orders for this simple yet famous Southern treat.
Nothing spells Derby fun like mint juleps and competition. KentuckyDerby.com recommends traditional games like horseshoes and stick horse races, and more creative games like Derby Twister, where the colors are replaced by horse or jockey names.
“We're going to play Horse Race, the card game,” Donovan explained. “For a little exciting competition.”
Game winners can receive a red-rose garland, just like the winning Derby horse does.
To see if your friends in Florida or your cousins in California are having Derby parties, visit the Derby Parties Map, which shows specific cities where residents are having parties.