Diary Of A Comfort Foodie: Derby Pie

Thursday, May 3, 2012 - by Kent Whitaker
- photo by Kern’s Kitchen

The Kentucky Derby is right around the corner! Two things happen in my family when Derby weekend approaches. First, my wife Ally starts her search for the perfect Kentucky Derby Hat. This year the hunt started between New Years day and Easter. Secondly, my mom starts talking about Derby Pie. Actually, with my family a Derby Pie conversation can pop up any time of year.

I was born in Louisville Kentucky so the Derby comes naturally to me. Its pageantry, sports, tradition and Southern Charm combined with NASCAR style tailgating, cold beverages and city wide block parties. Food is a natural ingredient to any Derby Day celebration.

Since Ally has her Derby hat covered I’ll move onto updating your Derby Dessert knowledge.

Derby Pie is a registered trademark!

Jessie Oswald, of www.louisville.com has written several great articles about the origins of the Derby Pie, and how the Kern's family perfected the recipe while they owned the Melrose Inn. When they sold the Inn they continued to make the pie for select customers and the business continued to grow. Once perfected Kern’s Kitchen and the Kern’s family locked up rights to the name with federal trademark protection and the actual recipe is top secret! Here’s a tidbit of trivia on how the Kern's family decided on a name. According to Oswald’s articles the Kern family members all had different ideas on what the new pie should be named. To settle things everyone agreed to write down a name and place the pieces of paper in a hat.  Guess what? Derby Pie was the winner.

Pecans? Nope  - Walnuts!

Did you know that a “traditional” Derby Pie uses walnuts instead of pecans? Sure, many people substitute nuts when they make their versions. There is nothing wrong with that. If you meet a purest and offer up a slice of Pecan based Derby Pie and they seem to have a problem with it… then take the pie back!

Pies - by the Numbers.

According to Jessie Oswald Kern’s Kitchen produces between 120,000-130,000 pies each year and one man, Production Mgr./Baker JB Keahey, bakes them all! That is amazing and shows how secret the recipe is. The dessert is most popular during the weeks surrounding the Kentucky Derby. Here are some more numbers; 1,892 sheets of Derby Pie are produced solely for use by Churchill Downs and 25,000 slices are served on Derby Day alone.

Since the Kern's Kitchen Derby Pie is a secret recipe people like me have been taking guesses at it for a long time. No one can match the taste of the original. However, there are some pretty darned good versions out there. Most often cooks substitute pecans for walnuts and Whiskey for Bourbon, even though this is frowned upon by many people from Kentucky and almost all horses in the state. Below is a recipe that will make a nice Chocolate & Walnut pie that will be a great addition to your Derby party since it would be hard to order one in time now.

For the official bakery and home of the Derby Pie check out www.derbypie.com . You can order a pie and find a distributor near you. This way you can be ready for next years Derby. Note - The photo shows an official Derby Pie from Kern's Kitchen, not the Chocolate & Walnut Pie recipe below.

 Chocolate & Walnut Pie

1/2 cup flour

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1 ready-made piecrust


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and butter; mix to combine. Stir in the bourbon, walnuts, chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Pour the mixture into the unbaked piecrust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool before slicing. 

Recipe by John Mitzewich.

Kent "The Deck Chef" Whitaker

Culinary books worth reading. Visit Kent online at www.thedeckchef.com or follow on twitter twitter.com/theKentWhitaker

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