As hundreds of visitors descend on Kentucky the first Saturday in May, many will want to eat food that is traditional to the Bluegrass state.
If you're having out-of-town guests for the Derby or Oaks Day, you can make their Kentucky experience memorable by serving recipes from two new Kentucky cookbooks.
Both have all the old favorites recipes, making them perfect for party planning and great gifts for your Derby guests.
Fiona Young-Brown's A Culinary History of Kentucky (The History Press, $19.99) reacquaints us with how foods came to Kentucky or came to be a Kentucky tradition.
The British-born author first came to Kentucky in 1998 to meet her future in-laws in Barbourville. Her first Kentucky meal included mashed potatoes and gravy, ham, fried chicken, corn, deviled eggs, corn bread and freshly baked rolls. She enjoyed many more similar meals, and came to appreciate "proper homemade fried chicken from an iron skillet" and biscuits and gravy and bourbon.
"Years later I still come back to that meal. Not because it was unusual, but I think over the years I've come to appreciate that sort of simple, home cooking that I enjoy each time I visit there. It wasn't just the simplicity that struck me, but the freshness of each ingredient," she said.
Young-Brown, who lives in Lexington with her husband Nic Brown, also writes a food blog, www.crazyenglishwomancooks.com. She believes cooking often needs to be more simplistic.
"We can get into a habit of complicating meals with too many additions, spices, and sauces, and while there is always a time and place for that, sometimes you can't beat enjoying simple, fresh ingredients and taking the time to taste each one," Young-Brown said.
In her book she looks at some of those foods that early Kentuckians ate to show how they were based upon the land and what it could produce. And because she has lived on several continents and traveled widely, she's fascinated with the different cultural influences on food.
Sarah Baird's new book, Kentucky Sweets (The History Press, $21.99), spotlights "sweet treats that really bind together communities across the Commonwealth."
"Kentucky has such a rich and fascinating culinary heritage, but between hot Browns and burgoo, the dessert culture is often overlooked," said Baird, a Kentucky native who now lives in New Orleans and is a culinary anthropologist. Baird writes about food for the blog Serious Eats, magazines Southern Living and Local Palate, and CNN's Eatocracy.
Kentucky Sweets includes "a diverse offering of recipes from across the state, not just from one region, and ones that really spotlight local ingredients or have had a large cultural impact. I spent a lot time looking through (hundreds of) old community cookbooks and fine-tuning recipes," Baird said.
Baird devotes a chapter to Derby favorites and includes mint julep brownies, May day pie, bourbon balls, and Kentucky butter cake.
Baird interviewed Rose Ann Stacy, co-owner of Muth's Candy Shop in Louisville where the famous Modjeska, a caramel-covered marshmallow, was created. Stacy, niece of the original Muth's founders, talked to Baird about the history of the candy shop, and the folklore surrounding the modjeska, which was named after Polish actress Helena Modjeska.
This book about Kentucky desserts also includes recipes for Shaker lemon pie and jam cake, and for pulled cream candy from Ruth Hunt Candies, the official candy of the Kentucky Derby.
These recipes for stack cake and Shaker lemon pie and from A Culinary History of Kentucky.
Dried apple stack cake
6 cups dried apples
4 cups apple cider
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup melted butter
1 cup sorghum
2 teaspoons vanilla
To make the filling, put the dried apples, cider, and sugar into a large pot. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for at least 30 minutes. Mix in the spices and then use a blender to blend it down to an applesauce consistency. Leave the mix to cool. If you prefer to keep larger apple chunks in your spread, skip the blending step.
Next day, make the cake layers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir together. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Into the well, pour the melted butter, sorghum, vanilla and eggs. Start mixing, and soon you will be able to use your hand to mix everything into a dough. You might need to add a little more flour or water to get the right consistency.
Now take the lump of dough and roll it into a thick log. Cut the log into six equal parts. Each part will be one layer. Bake the layers for about 12 minutes. Once they have cooled, you are ready to assemble cake.
Put the first layer on cake plate and spread with 3/4 cup of the apple filling. Repeat, alternating layers of cake and layers of apples, finishing with the sixth cake layer. Be careful when you are moving the cake at this point, as it is deceptively heavy. Leave the cake on the stand for about 10 to 12 hours at room temperature so the layers of cake can start to absorb the moisture from the apples. Cake can be served at this point, but it's better if you refrigerate it for another 12 to 36 hours.
When ready to serve, dust with a little powdered sugar.
Shaker lemon pie
2 large lemons
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 pie crusts
Slice the lemons as thinly as possible, complete with rinds. A mandoline is perhaps the best tool to ensure very thin slices. Cover the lemon slices with the sugar and mix, taking care not to crush the fruit. Leave to stand overnight. Add the beaten eggs and stir. Use one pie crust to line a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange the lemon slice mixture in the pie base and cover with the second pastry crust. Make a few slits in the pie crust for any air to escape. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes.
This recipe for mint julep brownies is from Kentucky Sweets.
Mint julep brownies
5 sprigs fresh mint
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 teaspoons
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, room temperature
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce dark (80 percent cacao) chocolate square
1 teaspoon peppermint oil
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 teaspoons bourbon
In a small bowl, muddle mint leaves with 2 teaspoons granulated sugar. Allow to stand for a minimum of 4 hours and preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 8- by 8-inch square pan generously with butter, then dust with flour. Remove mint leaves from sugar. Using a hand held electric mixer, cream together sugar, cream cheese, and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs to mixture one at a time, mixing until completely combined. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into the wet mixture, stirring until batter is smooth.
Taking two small medium bowls, melt chocolate square in the first bowl and fill with half the batter, mixing to combine. Place the remainder of the batter in second bowl, then mix in peppermint oil. Pour chocolate batter in pan, followed by mint batter. Drag a butter knife in a zigzag pattern to marbleize the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
Once cooled, sift confectioners sugar into a small bowl. Add in bourbon and whisk until smooth. Pour glaze over brownies and allow to cool. Serve immediately. Makes 24 servings.
Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.