It’s Kentucky Derby time, and this is the one week of the year that I REALLY miss living in Louisville. If you’ve never been to Kentucky for the Derby, you can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like. The Derby is not just a 2 minute horse race on Saturday afternoon. The Derby is a 2+ week long extravaganza that takes over Louisville and even Southern Indiana.
The Derby Festival kicks off with a HUGE fireworks display, Thunder over Louisville and then the celebration begins. Derby week, this week, is a week of parties and celebration. It’s Louisville’s time to shine! Each day during Derby week there is one big event or another. My favorites as a kid were always the balloon race the Saturday before. Many years the balloons would fly over out house early in the morning racing to find the sandbag. It was always an amazing site to see. On Wednesday we would flock down to the banks of the Ohio River to watch the great Steamboat Race, and to cheer on the Belle of Louisville. To get a good spot you had to get there early in the day! Thursday afternoon is the Derby Parade, filled with celebrities and amazing floats. Office buildings all along the parade route are filled with Derby Parade parties, and the streets are lined with people. On Friday, as a kid, we never had school on Derby Friday, because that was the Oaks. The Oaks is the big race for the fillies (the Derby is the big race for the mares). And then of course Saturday is the Derby, so if you haven’t partied enough in the weeks preceding the big day, you were sure to have a party on Derby Day!
Now, as an adult, I am an orthodox Jew, which means I observe the Sabbath, but with my strong Louisville roots, I haven’t lost my love for the Derby! Though I can’t watch the big race any more, and I rarely make it home for the festivities, I still like to find my way to celebrate. Before our eldest was born (now 5 years ago) my husband and I would have a big Derby Shabbat Dinner. We used to have a table filled with 15 – 20 people all ready to celebrate the Derby. My mom would ship us Derby plates, cups, napkins, tablecloths, and whatever other great decorations they were selling for that year. We hung pennants on the wall and of course my husband wore (and still wears each year) one of his many horse ties. For that one week, each year, our Shabbat meal didn’t consist of traditional Shabbat foods (chicken soup, gefilte fish, chicken and kugels), but instead the menu was filled with Kentucky specialties like Kentucky Burgoo (a yummy stew), oven fried chicken, corn bread, corn pudding, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, bourbon baked beans, bourbon carrots, and of course Derby Pie (which has bourbon in it) and Bourbon Slush (aka Kentucky tea). – if you can’t tell, bourbon is a common ingredient in many of these dishes!
Since we now have 3 little kids, our big blowout dinners have gone by the wayside, but we still hold onto the tradition of making a Derby themed meal. It’s important for my kids to know the traditions that I grew up with, even if they haven’t been able to experience the magic themselves. In a few years, when my kids are a little older and able to appreciate it, I will take them home for Derby week, to let them experience the magic that the Derby brings to Louisville. But for this year, while I fondly remember my years growing up with the Derby festivities, I’ll be busy cooking my Derby favorites and I’ll get to share my great memories with them.
Do you want to bring a little bit of Derby into your week? If so, here are 2 of my favorite recipes, Oven Fried Chicken r and Kentucky Burgoo. Most fried chicken recipes call for milk, but this has been adapted to be Kosher. Just as a warning, this chicken is so good that you will find yourself eating the drippings with a fork!
1 Whole Chicken (with skin on)
3 cups PARVE pancake mix
1- 2 packages of dried tomato soup
1 – 2 packages of dried italian dressing
1 tsp. paprika
2 parts water, 1 part olive oil, 1 part lemon juice
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Rinse off the chicken and then coat with the pancake/seasoning mixture. In a spray bottle (I’ve found this is the easiest way to do it), combine the lemon juice, oil and 1 cup of water. Spray the mixture so that the top is wet. Bake at 375 for 1 – 1/2 hours, basting it with the lemon juice, oil, water mixture every 15 minutes. Cook it until the coating is browning and the juice of the chicken should run clear. FYI, this should be cooked uncovered. BUT, if your topping starts to get too brown but your chicken still needs more time, lightly cover it for the last few minutes.
1 – 2 pounds of mixed cooked meats (beef, lamb, chicken, etc)
Pot 3/4 filled with water (I use my large stock pot)
1 c diced tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 large potatoes, diced
1/4 cup of peas
1 cup okra
1/4 lima beans
1/2 cup yellow corn
2 tsp garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste.
Combine all of the ingredients in a big pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for at least 2 hours, skimming the top as needed. Burgoo is traditionally very thick. This is a thinner recipe, but if you want to thicken it up you can use more okra, or add some corn starch and let it continue to simmer. I often transfer it to a crock pot so that we can eat it for lunch on Shabbat and it thickens up.
If you decide to make either of these recipes let me know how they come out!