Food & Drink

For Equestrian Games visitors, favorite Ky. foods in story form

Children's book author Laura Numeroff writes repetitive, circular stories that remind the reader how one thing can lead you off on a tangent but eventually bring you back to your original idea.

With apologies to Numeroff, author of If You Give a Pig a Pancake, here's how we chose 10 foods we think visitors to the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games should try while in Kentucky.

If you give a Kentuckian a bottle of bourbon, she'll want to make bourbon balls.

When she thinks of bourbon balls, that'll remind her of beer cheese.

She'll need other cheese to make a hot Brown, plus country ham to go with it.

She'll have to go to the store, and when she passes the produce counter, she'll want to buy chopped pecans for a race-day pie.

On the way home, she'll see a horse.

That will remind her of WEG. She'll think of how unusual some of Kentucky's foods are, and she'll want to share them with international visitors.

She'll probably go back to the store to buy some spoonfish caviar, and the thought of it will make her thirsty.

She'll see a carton of Ale-8 One, which will remind her she likes chocolates with the soft drink, which will remind her to make bourbon balls, and chances are you'll have to buy her more bourbon.

Beer cheese

Beer cheese is truly a Central Kentucky specialty. It's a spicy concoction of beer and cheese, created in the 1940s at Johnny Allman's restaurant on the Kentucky River at Boonesboro. It's a popular appetizer at bars, tailgate parties and luncheons, and it even has a festival named for it.

The Winchester Beer Cheese Festival is held each May, just a few miles from where beer cheese originated. Dozens of beer cheese makers vie for the honor of being chosen the best.

Beer cheese is made by mixing shredded cheese — anything from Velveeta to super-sharp white cheddar — and stale beer. The heat comes from cayenne pepper, hot sauce or dried peppers.

Beer cheese is available at area supermarkets and specialty stores.

Burgoo

Burgoo is a soup or stew made from meats and vegetables. It is regularly served during racing at Keeneland Race Course and at Moonlite BBQ Inn in Owensboro.

Its beginnings are as varied as its ingredients. Historically, it was cooked outdoors in iron kettles over an open wood fire for 12 hours or longer, mostly for political rallies, horse shows or church picnics.

People would put in the pot what they had raised in the garden or whatever the hunter brought home. Bear, deer, elk, wild turkeys and small game sometimes found their way into the same kettle, along with mutton, beef, pork and chicken.

You can sample authentic burgoo Friday through Sunday at the Anderson County Burgoo Festival on U.S. 127 in downtown Lawrenceburg, south of Frankfort.

Country ham

Country ham is not exclusively a Kentucky product, but the rich flavor of a Kentucky cured ham is like no other.

Arguably the best-tasting country ham is aged for two to three years and smoked with hickory wood. But even a year-old ham is mighty tasty. Preparing a 20-pound country ham takes hours. Before cooking, the ham should be scrubbed with a stiff brush to remove all mold. Then it should be placed in a pan under running water and left for 30 hours, according to an early cookbook, Out of Kentucky Kitchens by Marion Flexner. The ham is then boiled for hours; cooled in the liquor in which it was boiled; covered with cloves, mustard and brown sugar; and broiled.

A faster method is to cut a large country ham into ¼-inch-thick slices and fry it. This is served with red-eye gravy, which is made by adding a cup of coffee to the drippings in the pan and letting the mixture simmer for a few minutes.

Country ham, fried or boiled, is most often accompanied by biscuits — baking-powder biscuits or old-fashioned beaten biscuits. A beaten biscuit means the dough has been placed on a flat surface and pounded with a blunt instrument for 20 minutes. The biscuits are not light and fluffy but dry and crunchy, and are excellent for offsetting the saltiness of the country ham.

Whole country hams are sold online and at grocery stores, and they're served at many area restaurants.

Hot Brown

It's a Kentucky tradition, covered in cream sauce. The hot Brown, almost 1,000 calories of piping-hot history, was created on a whim by chef Fred K. Schmidt at Louisville's famed Brown Hotel in the roaring '20s. The turkey sandwich with the sinfully good topping has become a tasty part of Kentucky culture.

In its purest form, the hot Brown is toasted white bread, topped with slices of fresh roasted turkey breast, covered with a cream sauce (bechamel) and garnished with pimento (or tomato) and bacon.

It's available at local restaurants and the Brown Hotel in Louisville.

Derby pie

Derby Pie is a registered trademark of Kern's Kitchen Inc. of Louisville, so creative cooks have come up with innovative names — Run for the Roses pie, First Saturday in May pie and Kentucky Race Day pie — for their version of the chocolate nut pie that's served at Derby parties everywhere.

The original Derby Pie was created in 1954 by Walter and Leaudra Kern as the specialty pastry of Melrose Inn in Prospect. The recipe for the chocolate nut pie is a secret, but according to the package, Derby Pie contains granulated sugar, margarine, walnuts, eggs, semisweet chocolate, flour, butter and vanilla.

The original Derby Pie is sold at supermarkets.

Spoon bread

Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea is famous for its spoon bread, which is similar to corn bread, only lighter.

Richard Hougen, Boone Tavern Hotel manager for many years, is noted for having created the spoon bread recipe that's served at the hotel today.

Beaten egg whites and baking soda cause the spoon bread to puff up. It's too moist to be sliced or even cut into servings; it must be spooned out, hence the name. The consistency is a cross between a pudding and a wet corn bread.

Weisenberger Mill in Midway makes a spoon bread mix. Go to Weisenberger.com. The mix is also sold in supermarkets.

Ale-8 One

Kentucky's original soft drink, Ale-8-One, has been bottled in Winchester since 1926.

The Ale-8-One formula was developed by G.L. Wainscott in the 1920s after experimentation with ginger-blended recipes he acquired during extensive travels in Northern Europe. It's available where soft drinks are sold. Go to Ale-8-one.com.

The bottling company ships hundreds of Ale-8s all over the world to Kentuckians who can't get an ice cold bottle at the corner store.

Kentucky spoonfish caviar

Kentucky has its own caviar. Kentucky spoonfish caviar comes from the American paddlefish that is harvested from lakes and streams in Kentucky, primarily Lake Cumberland. The roe of paddlefish is packaged as Shuckman's Spoonfish Caviar in Louisville.

Spoonfish caviar is comparable to sevruga, not osetra or beluga, and sells for $49 for 2 ounces, $89 for 4 ounces.

It's available at Liquor Barn, Whole Foods and Good Foods stores in Lexington, and at Kysmokedfish.com.

Fried banana peppers

Fried banana peppers, like beer cheese, are said to have had their start in the Bluegrass at Johnny Allman's on the Kentucky River at Boonesboro.

Food historian Ronni Lundy, formerly of Kentucky, has an idea about how they came about: "Here's the deal with fried stuff in the South. If you eat it, somebody is going to fry it. At some point, somebody said: 'I bet that would be good breaded and fried.'"

Fried banana peppers are on appetizer menus at most Central Kentucky fast-casual restaurants, but you can make them at home.

Here's how it's done: Cut banana peppers lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Roll in plain flour, then drop into the batter, a mix of an egg, milk and plain flour that's a consistency that's thinner than pancake batter. Deep-fry until golden brown. To make them more pungent, marinate the peppers in vinegar.

Bourbon balls

Kentucky bourbon has made its way into many food products, and this one in particular is unique to Kentucky.

The bourbon ball originated at Rebecca Ruth Candy Factory in Frankfort. The candy company was founded in 1919, when two substitute schoolteachers in their mid-20s, Ruth Hanly (Booe) and Rebecca Gooch, decided they were not really very good teachers. The young women, who had received high praise from family and friends for their gifts of chocolates during Christmases past, founded Rebecca Ruth Candies, with the help of J.J. King, owner of the Frankfort Hotel. The women rented the hotel's barroom, which had been closed as Prohibition loomed, and they began dipping chocolates.

The idea of mixing candy and bourbon was accidentally suggested by a dignitary at Frankfort's sesquicentennial celebration in 1936. He said the two best tastes in the world were Booe's candies and fine Kentucky bourbon. Booe worked on the recipe for two years before perfecting the process of blending bourbon and candy.

Many companies make their version of bourbon balls. They're available at candy stores, supermarkets and gift shops.

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