The first Saturday of May is the Kentucky Derby or “The Run for the Roses”. It is also the ultimate time of the year to drink mint juleps and feast with friends at G___’s house.
Somehow G__ effortlessly hosts 60 people or more in her home with the grace and effusive charm that only a truly gracious Southern lady can muster. Today’s soiree was another perfectly delightful gathering.
G___ is a fantastic cook and hostess and she made a huge number of Southern delicacies for the groaning buffet tables:
• deviled eggs
• pimento cheese
• pepper jam slathered over cream cheese
• bowls and bowls heaped with crackers, nuts and strawberries on the stem
• green salad with cucumbers and grape tomatoes
• fresh berries macerated with orange juice and Grand Marnier
• cornbread with green chile and scallions
• macaroni salad
• carrot slaw with golden raisins
• red cabbage coleslaw with minced broccoli
• crunchy fried chicken
• Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches
The bar was manned by Xavier the butler who made dozens and dozens of glasses of mint juleps according to precise specifications of the lady of the house and poured endless bottles of champagne and fuzzy water. G___’s charming and refined sons dropped plump strawberries in the champagne glasses for the ladies.
Her boys also stayed up till the wee hours last night smoking the succulent pork shoulders for ten hours, then shredded them by hand. I helped frequently by offering “quality control” sampling. Heh.
I popped over a little early to man the fried chicken station and cooked up ten pounds of juicy, crispy thighs. This was the second time I have done this pleasant task and was quite pleased that the chicken was snapped up before the race started.
Sipping our heady cocktails and simply stuffed we mistily sang “My Old Kentucky Home” and cheered on the trainers, proud owners, fantastic hats, minuscule jockeys and those gorgeous, muscled steeds.
We drew the names of the horse we were to cheer on during the race but this year we also unanimously cheered Pants on Fire with his female jockey who was racing at the Derby for her first time. Girl power!
Sadly Pants on Fire came in 9th place but Animal Kingdom who was ranked 25:1 came zooming up from 6 lengths back to win the race, mane flying and neck stretched, with the jockey just holding on for dear life! What a race, what a horse!
After all that excitement it was time for dessert. Joining G___’s gorgeous cut crystal bowl of macerated fruit many guests loaded the dessert table with chocolates, lemon tart, fruit pies and tarts, hand picked strawberries, platters of pineapple, a splendid pink pudding with a crushed cookie crust and a towering red velvet cake all decked out for the Derby. Somehow I had forgotten that this cake is filled with cream cheese frosting, oh my! We nibbled on thin slices and pretended to complain about the calories.
I guess I have had my fill of mint juleps but in case you haven’t, here is how a true Kentuckian makes them.
REC: A Real Mint Julep
Tall or highball glasses
Fresh mint leaves
Bourbon, preferably Makers Mark
Put a clean disk towel on the counter and heap your ice cubes upon it. Wrap up the ice in the towel and using a mallet or meat tenderizer pound the heck out of the ice until it’s finely crushed. It usually helps to think about April 15th (or the 19th in this case for 2011).
Put a sprig or two of mint in each glass and fill tightly with the crushed ice, smashing the mint up a bit as you do. Add 1 tsp of simple syrup to each glass and fill with bourbon.
You can make these ahead of time (up to an hour) by placing the filled glasses in the freezer.
*** Note: Simple syrup is easy to make. For mint juleps you need 1 cup each sugar and water, a sprig of mint and a clean glass jar or bottle. Put everything into a pot and bring it to a boil. Don’t stir, just wriggle the pit now and again. When the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is cool, set it aside to cool. Store it in the fridge until needed. It will keep for months. You can also use this syrup for mojitos.
Many cocktails use simple syrup, so it’s nice to keep a bottle in the fridge, just leave out the mint for more versatility.
The best part of the afternoon was seeing so many of my dear friends. Despite the miles that separate us and the years that pass so very rapidly we never lose the joy of seeing each other and exchange hugs and kisses, share smiles at seeing their faces and a few tears over those who are no longer with us. Over the decades that I have known these lovely people my life has been so enriched and I feel such gratitude.
Thanks for the lovely party, G___, I look forward to next year!