This time every spring, Tricia Graham’s thoughts return to her old Kentucky home. The local realtor and longtime Mobile resident celebrates the season and her heritage by putting on a swank soiree the day of the Kentucky Derby. “I’m originally from Louisville, and I’ve had a Derby party for 38 years, ” Tricia says.
She and her husband, Duane, opposite, gather an intimate, intergenerational group of guests for libations and buffet-style fare at their Spring Hill home. In keeping with tradition, the Grahams serve juleps with Kentucky bourbon, brown sugar-and-bourbon-glazed ham, home-baked bourbon-laced Derby pie and even order bourbon-filled chocolates from Rebecca Ruth’s, a candy store in Frankfurt, Kentucky.
The seasoned hostess says her favorite ritual is when everyone sings “My Old Kentucky Home.” And she adores the thrill of watching the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.” “Everyone gets so excited. We are all hoping for our horse to win, ” she says. “In 1965, I won my first race, picking the winner, Lucky Debonair. I won a pineapple ice cream float.”
Dapper dressing is another integral part of the afternoon. “I remember when my parents went to the Derby at Churchill Downs, my mother always wore a beautiful, custom-made hat.” So chapeaux for ladies remains part of the required regalia at the Grahams’ event, with gentlemen sporting spiffy suits. This year marks the 141st annual Run for the Roses to be held on Saturday, May 2.
Strong and sweet, these Southern staples are a Derby tradition.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
fresh mint, washed and patted dry
1. Boil the sugar and water together for about 5 minutes to create a simple syrup. Let cool.
2. Fill container with fresh mint, pour simple syrup over top, stir to crush mint slightly.
3. Cover container and refrigerate for a day or two.
4. To serve, fill julep cups or glasses with ice, pour in bourbon to taste (usually a jigger), stir in julep syrup to taste (approximately a 1/2 tablespoon or more). Add fresh mint to garnish, if desired. Makes 3 – 4 dozen.
Ginger Garlic Tuna Tartare
Georgia Rousso's delicious take on the locally loved tuna tartare.
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon wasabi paste
3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
12 ounces saku-block tuna, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1. Combine first six ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
2. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Carefully fold in green onions and tuna.
3. Arrange cucumber slices in a circular pattern on serving plate. Spoon tuna mixture into middle of plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Makes approximately 2 cups.
Benedictine is a local Louisville specialty. Kentucky caterer Jennie Benedict created and made popular the verdant-hued spread. It makes for a great filling for finger sandwiches or dip for crackers or veggies.
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon dill weed
green food coloring, if desired
1. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.
2. Shred the cucumber and squeeze dry. Add cucumber and seasonings to cream cheese and mix well.
3. Add a few drops of green food coloring to give mixture a pale green tint. Makes approximately 2 – 3 cups.
Kentucky Derby Pie
This rich, decadent chocolate and bourbon-laced pie freezes well so it can be prepared ahead.
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup of chocolate chips
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 unbaked pie shell
whipped cream, for topping if desired
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter, add sugar.
3. Add the eggs, light corn syrup, salt and vanilla.
4. Stir in pecans, chocolate chips and bourbon. Mix well.
5. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
6. Serve warm or cold. Top with whipped cream, if desired. Makes 1 pie.
text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by ashley rowe