These famous words begin the greatest two minutes in sports. The Kentucky Derby has been a traditional horse race held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Folks flock to this Kentucky town to watch the two-minute race and share in the celebration that traditionally includes roses, hats and mint juleps. We may not ever be able to join the folks in Louisville, but we can create our own celebration steeped in tradition to share with our friends. A few enthusiastic friends, some mint juleps, hats, roses and appropriate food are all you need.
I like to give six couples a week or two notice that we will be celebrating the Derby at our home. This gives the ladies time to find a hat or embellish one they already own. Notices can be sent by text or email. If you want to be real fancy, handwritten invitations are the way to go.
If you are only sending five or six invitations, it isn't that much trouble. The note might read something like this:
" Please join us on Saturday, May 4 at 2:00 p. m. for a Derby Day party. We will be serving mint juleps and traditional Derby food. Ladies get your best hats ready. We look forward to having you enjoy the race with us. Best, Jane and John Doe "
Starting your celebration at 2:00 gives your guests plenty of time to enjoy libations and food while visiting before the 4:00 race begins. The men in the group may even want to make up a betting pool, but I always leave that to them. Men always seem to know better about those things.
On to the Libations and Food…
I am fortunate to have 12 silver mint julep cups. Well, actually 4 of these are what my mother referred to as Jefferson cups, but the size works here. If you don't have any silver, glass is the way to go as glass julep cups are used at the official Kentucky Derby.
Now, the key to a mint julep is to use crushed ice. I don't crush it myself as a local fast food outlet will sell a 10 lb. bag to me for a couple of dollars. Mint is a must have for this drink and I also grow mint in my yard, but you can get this at your local grocery store. The mint julep makes this party truly festive.
Serving Size: One Mint Julep
2 tbl. mint syrup (Recipe Below)
2 oz. good Kentucky Bourbon
Chill glasses. Fill with crushed ice. Add 2 tbl. mint syrup, 2 oz. bourbon. Stir and serve. Garnish with a mint sprig.
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 bunch of mint
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and pur over a handful of mint leaves and crush with a spoon. Cool and refrigerate syrup overnight in a closed jar. Remove mint leaves. Will keep in the refrigerator several weeks.
Serve this traditional drink with pimento cheese sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches and I like to do something substantial like ham and biscuits. The pimento cheese can be made 4 or 5 days ahead, as well as the spread for the cucumber sandwiches. The ham can be cooked several days ahead and set out to come to room temperature. The biscuits can be cooked early in the day (I use the frozen ones and they are great). If you feel the need for something sweet, lemon bars can be made ahead and will be a good addition.
It is always wise to serve enough food to keep your guests from leaving your home inebriated. Also, I always have other drinks available as not everyone will partake of the mint julep. Wine, beer, and lemonade should suffice. As you will know your crowd, you can decide what they might drink.
Run for the Roses
Roses, as many as you can cut or afford, should be everywhere. Roses should serve for the centerpieces for the serving table, cocktail table, powder bath, etc. This is the run for the roses after all.
With a little effort on your part, your friends will enjoy this party so much that they will look forward to the next year with much excitement. Get your best hat ready and give yourself some time to organize this great party so you will be ready for those three famous words "and they're off".