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COMFORT FOOD

We can’t have the Derby, but we can still have the pie

Many of us are craving a slice of tradition.

The pie is equal parts crunchy and gooey, with the chocolate and walnuts complementing each other perfectly.
The pie is equal parts crunchy and gooey, with the chocolate and walnuts complementing each other perfectly.Mary Bakija

As most of us continue to shelter in place, many people are craving the familiar social rituals that have been negated by the coronavirus pandemic. Sometimes, though, you can maintain those rituals even if the usual context for them has been stripped away.

Case in point: Tomorrow is the first Saturday in May. Under normal circumstances, that would make it the day for the Kentucky Derby. But these are not normal times, so this year's Derby has been rescheduled for September (and even that may be wishful thinking). Despite that, I'm sticking to one of my annual Kentucky Derby traditions: I'm making a First Saturday Pie.

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That’s not what I usually call it. But the term that I and most people use when referring to a Kentucky-based confection that’s sort of like a pecan pie but is made with walnuts and chocolate chips (hint: the term rhymes with “derby pie”) is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen, a Kentucky bakery that has has taken a very litigious approach toward protecting its intellectual property, so using that term in print can be risky. This is also why dessert menus at so many Kentucky restaurants feature dishes with wink-wink names like Race Day Pie, Winner’s Circle Pie, Triple Crown Pie, or even Thoroughbred Pie (ewww).

By any name, it's a great pie — equal parts crunchy and gooey, with the chocolate and walnuts complementing each other perfectly. Thanks to the trademark issue, there are lots of slightly varying recipes with slightly varying names floating around out there. Some call for pecans instead of walnuts, which I think is heretical, but that's just me. Really, there's no wrong way to make this pie.

My version ups the Kentucky ante by adding a splash of bourbon to the recipe. It also includes a whopping four eggs, which cause the pie to puff up like a soufflé in the oven. The surface then sinks and cracks as it’s cooling, which makes it look a bit, well, imperfect. I used to be annoyed by this, but now I embrace it as my pie’s visual signature (you might even call it a trademark, but I promise not to sue anyone who mimics it). I won’t get to share it with friends at a Kentucky Derby party this year, but my girlfriend and I will still enjoy it at home on Saturday — that’s the power and comfort of a ritual.

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Paul Lukas can be reached at plukas64@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @uniwatch.