HEY," SHOUTED the prettily scrubbed girl wearing the Lily Pulitzer print and Pappagalo espadrilles, "I just saw a horse!"

Three young women in the briefest of brief shorts walked past a middle-aged man in coat-of-Joseph trousers, face reddening mightly in the 75-degree sun, pouring blanc de blanc from a bottle sweating in its silver cooler.

With everything that was happening on the grounds of the R. N. Reynolds estate near Winston-Salem, N.C., it was remarkable that anyone noticed the Tanglewood Steeplechase. About 15,000 of the South's bluest bloods, and some not so blue, gather at Tanglewood the third Saturday in April for what they enjoy calling "the world's largest cocktail party." The fact that there are also pure-bred horses is mostly coincidenial.

In a glorious assault on the senses, strong colors and exuberant fashions dazzled the eyes, pungent roasting pig and fresh strawberries tantalized the nose. The loudspecker crackled over soothing, refined drawls.

People began gathering by 10 a.m., winding in through several gates across Tanglewood's green fields to the track where the 12th annual steeplechase would be run. They came to see and be seen: The first race was not until 2 p.m., four hot hours later. The Tanglewood is the last part of the Dixie Circuit which began in early spring with runnings in Atlanta and four other locations in South and North Carolina. But Tanglewood is the "most demonstrating [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the Dixie Circuit runnings. (Atlanta's is said to be ruled by iron hands, yawning pocketbook and social registers.

At Tanglewood, general admission is $4 per person and reserved parking spaces $25 to $35. Pick-up trucks and costly RVs, Chevettes and Cadillacs, Rolls-Royces and restored antiques rolled in on the sun climbed toward noon. The cars stopping observers in their tracks were literally crawling with pretty girls from nearby colleges; but there were also the Hudson, Bentley and Morgan which seem to have escaped from a museum in fine health. They nosed with extreme caution toward $100-a-car "preferred" or "sponsor parking" sections where, democratic or not, a good deal of the action takes place. Here, the R. J. Reynolds tables stand beneath their tents, with the champagne and the sterllng silver. Culture and Cuisine

In this beautiful area, blossoming in the springtime, culture and cuisine are as closely linked as Winston and Salem. Before America's own independence was certain, Moravians in Old Salem were frying chicken and making their chicken stews, baking tea cakes and lovefeast buns, shaping pretzels and frying sugared crullers.

From the moment the first azaleaf blossom and the dogwood flowers, many of these recipes travel an elaborate picnic route with some of the finest cooks of the area. The culinary cult in Winston-Salem is in deadly, delicious competition beginning each year at the Steeplechase, moving on to the Multiple Scierosis picnic and them to Tanglewood Park.

The picnic of 1976 is particularly remembered because of its proximity to Easter. A three-foot ice carving of an Easter bunny was the centrepiece of one tent-covered table. It was the year, too, that the Roman lunch was sold in a benefit auction.

Two cooks' research revealed that a favorite dish of the Holy Roman Empire had been birds cooked in clay. So following the cold cucumber soup, each of the eight-guest auction-winning party dined on his own clay-enclosed roasted cornish game hen, hand-painted to look like an Easter Egg. Each guest was given a hand-painted rock, bearing his or her name, for cracking open the clay. This was followed modestly by a cold roast beef salad, chilled baked potato boats filled with sour cream, chives and bacon, a gazpacho salad and a towering caramel croquembouche.

This spring, two trends were in evidence: A plentitude of gentlemen chef-hosts; and the replacement of cold soups - the most trendy fad foods of past years - by marinated vegetables and fresh strawberries. Winston-Salem's farmer's market was besiged, and strawberry patches as far south as Florida were probably laid bare.

Down from Roanoke, Va., one woman perched on her car's hood and prepared to dispense marinated vegetables, still cooly crisp from their travelling bed of ice. "I added some fresh asparagus," she explained, pointing to perfect tips scattered through a melange of white, orange, yellow and vivid pepper-green.

Up near the radiator cap, a man from Winston-Salem dabbed a creamy ivory tomato sauce over poached chicken breasts. "I just boiled them a bit with lemon and onion," carefully sprinkled on capers, nestled slices of marinated tomatoes beside the chicken, and served ceremoniously.

"Will Jim Carr please come to the finish line?" shouted the loudspeaker adding. "Elizabeth honey, stop waiting on him and go back to your car." A few vehicles away, above a tent strung on the side of a pick-up truck, two wrap-skirted girls practised disco steps on the roof of a station-wagon. Piling It On

If Tanglewood had a winner's circle for cakes the one made by Beta Tartan food editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, would surely have been there. Her own description of it out-colors any track announcer.

"If I hadn't spent two days looking through cook books, I wouldn't have been frosting it the morning of the steeplechase."

Williamburg white fruit cake, "because it's sturdy," made the 11-by-13-inch base, which Tartan began to embellish:

"You were supposed to sprinkle on 1/2 cup of sherry, but it was still dry so I put another 1/2 cup on and it was still dry. I said "I'll drown it if I have to, I'm gonna make that thing moist." So I put another cup of sherry over and then I found some ginger marmalade and melted a cup of that over it."

The next two layers, each about 3 inches deep, were a spumoni pound cake. "It had three different flavors," she said, topped by a "winner's circle" of hazel-food cake about 4 inches across "then I made butter cream frosting and threw in a little strong black coffee and some Kahlum, and then some melted chocolate. It tasted great, but when I put it all together, there were these little holes all around where it don't fit - it looked terrible."

With no time left, "I was just in a pure bind, but then I threw about eight ounces of English walnuts in the Cuisinart and ground them to fine and then I pressed them around in all the holes. Nobody would have ever know but me."

For good measure, Tartan "nestled the whole thing in green-tinted coconut to look like turf."

Joan Hnasko, a transplanted Washingtonian, is another steeplechaser who takes her Tanglewood seriously. Her menu involved an intricate sandwich loaf, brought semi-frozen to Tanglewood so that it "stays in place and slices easily;" her traditional pork pie (I put one of those little porcelain black birds you find in good culinary shops in the hole to let the steam out), a pate in puff pastry; and her Cointreau souffle. Pigs and Playfulness

The good smell of Darryl Burge's 110-pound pig roasting on his home-made, 275-gallon oil-barrel grill hung over the race track all afternoon, making everyone from the $4 admission section to "preferred seating" sniff appreciatively.

A group from Runneymead Acres, near Louisville, N.C., offered a thirsty passer-by a "Yellow Bird" - a drink of "secret" ingredients guaranteed "to make you not feel a thing by the end of the race." Several fruit juices were mentioned, one hard liquor at least, three liquors and "one little ingredient I'm pledged not to divuige."

From a table beautifully set with silver candlebra, a huge silver bowl of ice, champagne bottles and fresh spring flowers in more silver, the Runneymead group dispensed iced pink shrimp "we had flown up here from Wilmington just for this," and a Grand Marnier cake.

A distant number of rows from the track, a young man in top hat and tails - and his long-skirted young female companions - hilariously spoofed the table arrangements up front at track-side. For their centerpiece, they carefully uncovered a four-inch ice scuplture and shielded it from the sun, placed beside it a wine cooler of vin ordinatre; and suspended over it a make-shift tripod and enormous "crystal" chandelier of plastic tear-drop pendants. Tongue-in-cheek, they stretched out on the grass to enjoy their wine from crystal goblets.

Beside his vintage Rolls-Royce, a blazer-clad judge was buzy proving that born-cook gentlemen, sometimes have trouble with their cooking instructions. While his friend the doctor poured cabernet sauvignon for their wives, the judge was gesturing over his crisply browned roast pig, stretched the width of the table, nattily attired in festoons and garlands.

"Well, I roasted him for about the first half-hour in a 415 oven, and then in 350 - I don't know for how long, 'till it's done I guess. Be sure to cover the ears, they burn first. You grease it, and pour boiling stock over it and - I don't know, just mess with it." Photo Finish

The loud-speaker pleading with "anyone who belongs to a small brown dog with red collar, please get him off the track," - heard over the partying - reminded only a few that there was, after all, a steeplechase to be run.

On seeing an approaching camera, big William Reynolds, an heir to the R. J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, abruptly departed his spot near an enormous platter piled high with bright red whole boiled lobsters. Asked exactly how many lobsters, John Welch, bachelor host of the party explained off-handedly: "I just order enough of them. It's just accorsding to who caomes by." Coming by were a host of Winston-Salem pals enjoying the marinated fresh green bean salad, biscuits filled with proscuitto, Greek fest cheese turnovers and tremendous platters of fat green asparagus spears. The dipping sauce? "I just make a proper Bearnaise, and spice it up with a little red pepper and lemon juice," said Welch. A huge silver bowl of chilled strawberries was there for the picking.

"I told them," Welch said, gesturing to his guests, "unless you're a doctor. you won't find anything unhealthy here - unless it's the liquor or the corn sugar." "There was plenty of that."

At a sound of commotion from the track, the group strained to look past the rail. "At last," Welch murmured wearily, "a horse."

As to the race, 47 entries came from 11 Eastern states including Maine, New Jersey and New York. The only entry west of Tennessee was a horse from Cincinnati. The Tanglewood Cup worth $10,000 was won by Irish Reports. Two horses suffered broken legs, and one of them had to be destroyed. The guests continued to eat and drink.

Mrs. F. Borden Hanes Jr. took these vegetables to the Tanglewood Steeplechase. "They are the best," she said, "exactly the right balance of vinegar and sugar." MILLIE'S MARINATED VEGETABLES (30 servings) 2 heads cauliflower 3 green peppers, seeded 2 bags raw carrots 1 bunch celery 1 pound mushrooms 3 medium yellow summer squash 1 bunch broccoll 2 cucumbers, unpeeled, seeded 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup olive oil 3 cups tarragon vinegars 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon prepared mustard 1 tablespoon salt 2 teaspoons dried tarragon leaves Pepper to taste

Cut up all vegetables in varied, pleasing shapes - julienne, squares, balls, diamonds, etc., or just in bite-size chunks.Combine all other ingredients and pour over the vegetables in non-metallic container. Cover, and chill at least 12 hours, or more, turning the vegetables occasionally. Any other fresh vegetable good served raw may be used. Keeps several weeks in refrigerator. BETH'S PICKLED SHRIMP 2 1/2 pounds raw shrimp 4 tablespoons salt 1 teaspoon peppercorns 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon seasoned salt 2 tablespoons wine vinegar 1 lemon, sliced thin 1/3 cup celery tops, chopped fine 1 garlic clove, crushed but in one piece 1 onion, sliced thin Bay leaves

Dressing 1 cup peanut oil 3/4 cup white vinegar 1 tablespoon salt 2 1/2 tablespoons celery seed 1/3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1/2 cup catsup 1 garlic clove, very finely minced 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard.

Cool shrimp briefly in boiling water with the rest of the ingredients, except for sliced onion, bay leaves and dressing ingredients. Cook only until shrimp turn pink if fresh or until slightly curled if frozen. Set aside to cool in liquid for 10 minutes.Drain and clean. Prepare dressing by combining oil, vinegar, salt, celery seed, Worcestershire, catsup, garlic and mustard. In two 1-quart jars, alternate shrimp with sliced onion rings. Add 5 bay leaves on top of each onion layer. Fill jars with dressing. Chill overnight. Turn jars upside-down in the morning.

Last indefinitely, refrigerated, but remove from refrigerator briefly each time before serving so that oil will not be congealed. At picnics, serve straight from jars using long pickle fork. BETH TARTAN'S FRENCH PICNIC LOAF (12 to 16 servings) 1 envelope onion soup mix 1 1/2 pounds ground beef 1 pound ground pork (grease quality pork sausage) 3 cuups softened bread crumbs 3/4 cup catsup 3 eggs beaten 1 teaspoon silspice 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 2 cups diced cooked ham 1 medium green pepper, diced 1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained 3/4 cup pine nuts (optional) In large bowl, combine onion soup mix, beef, pork, bread crumbs, catsup, eggs, all spice, thyme and garlic powder. Blend in ham, green pepper, mushrooms and 1/3 cup pine nuts if used.

Turn into greased 2-quart casserole; sprinkle with remaining nuts. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours or until well browned; pour off fat and chill loaf. JOAN HNASKO'S COINTREAU SOUFFLE 1 quart milk 4 eggs, slightly beaten 1 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 to 2 tablespoon (or more) Cointreau 1 tablespoon or 1 envelope plain gelatin 2 tablespoons cold water 1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese 2 cups heavy cream 1 angel food cake broken in small pieces

Scald milk; add eggs, 1 cup sugar mixed with flour and salt. Cook in double boiler over hot water until mixture coats spoon, stirring often. Add vanilla and Cointreau. In hot mixture, dissolve gelatin that had been softened in cold water.

Tear angel food cake into small pieces and place in 8-cup souffle dish or bundt pan; pour custard over cake.

Whip cream cheese; add pineapple, additional Cointreau and vanilla. Spread this over mixture in mold. Whip cream with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and perhaps 1/3 teaspoon vanilla and pile over all. Chill 12 to 24 hours.

The decorations are optional, but not only are they beautiful, they add marvelous taste contrast: melt a little red currant jelly and with it, tint a peeled, nicely shaped pear or pear halves, poached or raw. Place in center of souffle and surround by fresh mint leaves. Dip thin unpeeled red apple slices in lemon juice and arrange around the pear like spokes of a wheel. Decorate between apples slices with raspberries, strawberries, grapes or any colorful fruit in season. Serve in slices from the mold.

Joan Hnasko sometimes extemporizes: "I line a clear glass souffle dish with halved lady-fingers and then pour in the filling and the rest; then it's even prettier." If she makes too much, which happens occasionally, "I put it in individual dishes, or any other container, and it freezes beautifully."