The more time I spend in the Northeast, the more I find myself acting as an informal (and sometimes formal) ambassador for my beloved Derby City. Because let me tell you, that little race that New Yorkers are quick to write off as a silly Southern fling is, in fact, a pretty big f-ing deal. Come the first Saturday of May, even the most surly Southerners will bust out their florals and plaid. The hats are elaborate, the seersuckers are freshly pressed, and shoulders still pasty from a long winter peek out from beneath the straps of cheery sundresses. Then, there’s the food. A 2012 infographic by Derby LLC reported that 800 pounds of bourbon balls and 1,892 sheets of Derby Pie are consumed during the festivities, along with 120,000 mint juleps and 7,800 liters of bourbon. That’s just the official count, never mind the thousands of house parties and private gatherings that spring up all over the city, providing an outlet for those who want to get into the Derby spirit without the company of the 200,000 other spectators packed into Churchill Downs.
Hunter S. Thompson may have called the Kentucky Derby “decadent and depraved,” but for me the pageantry and spectacle are all part of what makes Louisville special — an underappreciated spot of sunshine in the land between the coasts. So when May rolls around and I find myself spending yet another Derby far from the Bluegrass, I like to make myself a little slice of home: a delicious, decadent concoction known (unofficially, and in hushed tones, per copyright restrictions) as Derby Pie.
Gooey and sweet, with a hint of bourbon cutting through the thick chocolate and oh-so-Southern pecans, it tastes like the call to the post, the glisten of the jockeys’ silks, and the gleeful camaraderie of an entire city decked out in its finest and dedicated to a good time. I’ve made this pie in Brooklyn, in Providence, and in Paris (France, not Kentucky), and it never fails to take me home. Someday I will get back and celebrate with my people, who need no explanations for the mayhem because they’re as eagerly complicit in the madness as I am. But in the meantime, come May 2nd, I will don a requisite sundress and hat, pull up ESPN, and force my New York friends to join in with the crowd as we sing one song for my old Kentucky home, far, far away.
Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie (As of 1968, only Kern’s Kitchen is officially allowed to call it Derby Pie.)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cups light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Kentucky Bourbon (IMPORTANT NOTE: As previously explained in our note to dear New York re: mint juleps, in our books, there is no other acceptable kind.)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips (Or, in my case, more like 1 ½ cups—I’m a firm believer in never skimping on the chocolate.)
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (I recommend Pillsbury if you’re lazy or have other pressing tasks — i.e. bourbon drinking — to attend to, but if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make your own. This is a good primer.)
Preheat oven to 375°.
In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter.
Add eggs, corn syrup, salt, bourbon, and vanilla. Mix on low speed with a mixer (or with moderate enthusiasm by hand) until blended.
Spread pecans and chocolate chips in the bottom of the prepared pie shell.
Pour filling over nuts and chocolate chips.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until set.
Serve in the sunshine, washed down with an ice-cold mint julep. (Don’t know how to make one? Check back tomorrow: We’ve got you covered.)