Good ole’ Kentucky home cooking is on the list of things people miss once they leave the Bluegrass State. We have our own twist on old southern favorites that you might not find elsewhere. Real southern cuisine can be a shock to the system of those who haven’t tried it, and simple food combinations serve up powerful flavors. Some say it is from the love that goes into making it, though that cannot be confirmed for sure.
15. Lamb fries
This is not your average mutton. These fries are popular in the Bluegrass and Cumberland Plateau areas, which is most of the northern part of the state. Lamb fries are not your average slice of mutton. They are actually lamb testicles, cut into thin strips, lightly breaded and then fried. They are usually served with Bechamel sauce, which is a cream gravy of meat grease, flour and milk. I’ve heard tell they are quite good, but have not been compelled to try them.
14. Chili buns
This was a discovery I made within the past year, due to its popularity in a different region of the state. You take a nice, thick dollop or 5 of chili and serve it on a hotdog bun. Cheese, onions, or jalapenos can be added for variation, but all are more tasty then you’d think. No, the hotdog itself has not been forgotten, but excluded on purpose. It is really tasty.
13. Stack cakes
Think pancakes but stack them with a layer of fried apples, or other fruit or jam in between each pancake. You can stack them however high you want and get creative with the middle. Some people add salted caramel now, but I’ve always appreciated the more traditional fruit layers. If you want syrup or sorghum, it becomes a very sweet, but filling breakfast or snack.
For centuries, deer have been a popular source of food for hunters and their families. It keeps well and can be made in a variety of ways for future use. People tend to make everything from roast to sausage from the meat. A specific number of tags are released yearly for hunting and population control. Those caught hunting without tags are heavily fined, can lose their license, and face jail time.
11. Bourbon balls
This Kentucky bourbon treat is often served on holidays and during the Kentucky Derby festival. There are a variety of different spins on the traditional recipe, with some people adding mint to mimic Mint Juleps and other flavor combinations. Different liquors are used as well, like rum, but bourbon is the Bluegrass State’s tradition since its popularity grew via Ruth Booe of Rebecca Ruth Candy in 1938.
10. Hot Brown.
This traditional open face turkey sandwich with tomato, bacon and Mornay sauce began at the Brown Hotel in the early 1900s. Initially it was a substitute for Welsh Rabbit and commonplace breakfast food to be served to guests that arrived around midnight or early am. It gained popularity, evolving into our state sandwich, with versions now served in private homes and restaurants all across the state.
This was a stable in Appalachians and most of Kentucky for decades. If you have leftover barbecue pork, and some potatoes and carrots, you just made burgoo. If you have rabbit and root veges, it becomes burgoo. The thing about Burgoo is its flexibility. It is whatever you have to make it from, and we have grown to love it.
8. Sausage, biscuits and gravy
Southern cooking at its finest, especially if it is made from Purnells Old Folks Country Sausage. This pork sausage is made in Simpsonville, so technically, it should be the state sausage. Decades ago, this was a “stick to the ribs” breakfast that helped farmers make it till lunch time.
7. Cornbread or Jhonny cakes
Cornmeal can literally help make a lack of food into a meal. Think beans and cornbread. You can add water, seasoning and a hambone (Or whatever.) to the pot, make cornbread, and the family is fed. A simple snack was mixing cornbread with milk, sometimes adding a tomato for more nutrition. Cornbread has been a stable food in the Appalachians and other poor communities over the decades. It is favored baked or pan fried, aka Jhonny Cakes and is still a favorite tradition for many. We have it at least once a week.
6. Derby or Thoroughbred Pie
Pecan pie is popular all around the south, but we have 3 special variations. The Derby Pie is most common, simply adding dark chocolate to the filling. The 2nd Derby variation features pecans soaked in bourbon, which is most appealing for bourbon lovers. The 3rd utilizes bourbon soaked walnuts instead of pecans, and adds dark chocolate to the recipe. Choosing just one can be a challenge.
5. Barbecue Chicken Pizza
Marinara might be traditional, but barbecue is the sauce in Kentucky. We find switching out the traditional sauce and tossing in chicken and onions makes for perfection. Some pizza lovers will occasionally add pineapple or bacon to create an even more unique burst of flavor. I’m not saying this is strictly a Kentucky thing, but it has become a very popular pizza over the years.
4. Barbecue in general
The taste of bbq varies according to region and Kentuckian, but there is no shortage of it in this state. Some use a tangy vinegar based sauce, others add varied ingredients to create unique, mouthwatering flavors. Barbecue sauces can be sweet, tangy, smokey, spicy and combinations thereof. We use it on every type of meat you can imagine, right down to spam, and some vegetables too. Kentucky is so into Barbecue we host the International Bar B Q Festival in Jhonny Depp’s childhood home town of Owensboro annually.
3. Beer Cheese
A lot of people love cheese, and many also love beer. In Winchester, they decided to mix the two together and create the Kentucky rival to Queso dip everywhere. If you have never tried Beer Cheese, don’t just try it once. Everyone has their own version and some are better than others. They pair up with soft pretzels, fry bread, bread sticks, chips and pretty much anything you can dip. It can even be used as a hot cheese sauce on sandwiches. Versatile and delicious.
2. Fried chicken
I think the name, “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, and the fact other states have them now really says it all.
1. Fried catfish
Being a land covered with vast amounts of both natural and manmade rivers and lakes, it is only logical that fish be a stable food. We have a variety of fish all across the state, but fried catfish is something you can find almost anywhere. Kentucky catfish is a meal you’ll want often after you have it right. There are secrets to good catfish other than the breading being just right, and Kentuckians have it down to a science.
It is amazing what meager ingredients went from survival food to something traditionally served for generations to come. Those who perfected Kentucky home cooking over the centuries have been immortalized via their meals, but every family has their favorites. What are your favorite examples of Kentucky home cooking?