The 12th Earl of Derby is a strong contender for the "I-shot-an-arrow-in-the-air-it-landed-I-Know-not where" award. The arrow shot by the earl took wing in 1780, when he instituted the race named after him at Epsom Downs. It landed in Kentucky blue-grass country in 1875 with the first running of the Earl's American name-sake, the Kentucky Derby.
This Saturday, as the horses approach the starting gate at Churchill Downs, raise a glass to the long-gone earl, who may live in equine memorial but never got the taste America's conbtibution to the Derby: the mint julep. b
No Kentucky Derby luncheon would be complete without them. After guests have contributed to the Derby pool and drawn a horse's name, and before the race is run or lucheon served, the juleps appear, frosty glasses topped with sprigs of mint.
If you have done this before, or plan to do it again (or are simply reckessly rich), they may be in the traditional silver julep cups. Even then, it seems, achieving a frosted exterior is not always easy. The late James Cain once wrote of his attempt to create the perfectly frosted mint julep. He sent away for silver cups. He carefully crushed the ice. Failure.
Then he tried a massive increase in the amount of bourbon in each cup. Perfecton achieved but, alas, after one or two of these frosty successes, his guests fell to the floor like flies.
For an authentic -- if less potent -- mint julep recipe, there is the one copied down by Henry Clay in his diary:
"The mint leaves fresh and tender, should be pressed against the goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice. In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed with chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with choicest sprigs of mint."
(Some people solve the frosting problem by making the drinks in advance and popping them into the freezer for a half hour; this necessitates either a small party or a large freezer.)
If you'd like to stay in the Kentucky tradition, you could make your main course burgoo, originally a stew of such small game as rabbit, raccoon, and squirrel and still thrifty in its domesticated version, which uses cheaper cuts of meat like pork, veal and beef shank and stewing hen. After the meat has been cooked and removed from the bone, and the stock has been defatted, return the meat and broth to the stew pot and add onions, carrots, potatoes, red and green peppers, chopped cabbage, tomatoes, corn, and lima beans. Cook untill the vegetables are tender and season the stew with salt, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce.
For a salad, serve Bibb lettuce. Kentuckians claim it was developed by a native son named John Bibb.