May 3

Mint Julep: A Taste of Southern Summer

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It’s Derby week in Kentucky; the field of thoroughbred hopefuls will Run for the Roses on Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs. Why do I know this? Because I grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, home of one of the country’s old line thoroughbred race tracks: Oaklawn Park. My grandfather taught me how to read a Racing Form when I was in grade school.

Finish Line at Oaklawn ParkOaklawn Park is a beautiful old historic track, dating from 1904 . During racing season, the town of Hot Springs nearly doubles in size with people coming from all over the country to place their bets on the ponies. The track is located in town on the main north-south thoroughfare, which, of course, snarls traffic throughout the spring, leaving the ‘townies’ grumbling about the race traffic.

The track is out in the south part of town, a stone’s throw from Hot Springs High School, my alma mater. When I was a senior in high school, those of us who had last period study hall could leave the campus early and during racing season, we headed for the track after our last class, where we pooled our pocket change to make $2 wagers. Sometimes, if we were flush, we’d up the ante. I once put down a $6 combine (that’s $2 to win, place, and show) on a horse called Arial Hiatus, going off at pretty good odds in a mile and 70 race. He won and I raked in $78 for my $6 bet.

I purchased an Easter dress with my winnings, what my mother jokingly referred to as the ‘tainted money’.

Nothing beats the excitement of studying the form, picking your horse, rooting for him (or, occasionally, her) as he breaks with the pack at the bell, heads down the backstretch, jostles for position around the clubhouse turn, and thunders down the homestretch to the wire.

Well, nothing except the joy of cashing a winning ticket.

Even if you don’t win, which is a pretty common occurrence, a day at the races is a day of fun: the parading, prancing horses; the jockeys in their colorful silks; the roar of the crowd; the smell of popcorn and peanuts; the taste of a savory race track hot dog; the mustard dripping down your chin.

And the Oaklawn Jockey Club had the best bread pudding with bourbon sauce I’ve ever eaten. Then again, I’ve never been to Churchill Downs, so maybe theirs is just as good; it would be hard for it to be better. Makes my mouth water to remember it. Of course, it wasn’t low carb, but man alive it was good.

The signature taste treat at Churchill Downs, of course, is the quintessential Southern thirst quencher: The Mint Julep.

And it’s a whole lot easier to adapt a Mint Julep to a low carb format than bread pudding.

With the Kentucky Derby just days away, I figured I’d give it a whirl. Here’s what I came up with, a loose adaptation of Alton Brown’s Mint Julep recipe. I plan to make them on Saturday to raise a glass–or two–to the new Derby winner.

Low Carb Mint Julep

Makes 1

Ingredients

10 large fresh mint leaves
1 sprig of mint for garnish
2 teaspoons granulated Splenda
club soda or seltzer
crushed ice
3 ounces Blanton’s Single Barrel, Wild Turkey, or good Kentucky sippin’ whiskey

1) If possible, use silver or pewter julep cups. If not, an ‘old fashioned’ glass will work.

2) Place the mint leaves into the bottom of the cup; add the Splenda and muddle the leaves with a drink muddler or pestle until the leaves start to break down.

3) Add a jigger of soda or seltzer and swirl; fill the glass with crushed ice.

4) Add the bourbon, top off with another splash of seltzer, the sprig of mint, and drink.

One or two of these and you’ll think you’re in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs.


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  1. Mmmm, we didn’t drink mint juleps at the beautiful, historic race track in Saratoga Springs, NY but the racing and betting was just as fun! I used to have a lot of with $20 in my pocket and a day at the races. Thanks for jogging my memory.  Anna

    COMMENT from MD EADES:  Make up a couple and sit back and watch the ponies Run for the Roses on the tube–not quite like being there, but fun.  Won’t even cost the $20.

  2. Born and raised in Hot Springs (graduated HSHS 1965)and now living in Grand Junction, CO, I LOVED the trip down memory lane! My husband, my 28-year-old daughter, and I were back last month during Derby Week, but we didn’t get to go to the races after visiting with family–ran out of time! Thanks for the memory!

    COMMENT from MD EADES:  We’ll be going back this June for a reunion, but, sadly, too late for racing season.

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