This weekend, fans will gather for the 138th annual Kentucky Derby, North America’s favorite horse racing event. Fans will place bets for the likes of Black Onyx, Oxbow and Frac Daddy and cheer on the horses and their jockeys as they gallop around the track. But watching the races and enjoying the spring weather aren’t the Derby’s only draws. Traditional also calls for bountiful cups of icy mint juleps sipped alongside a hearty bowl of burgoo, a Kentucky favorite often served at the event.
In the mid-19th century, Kentucky’s Henry Clay was no stranger to the delights of the mint julep. The University of Kentucky provides a favorite recipe, straight out of Clay’s diary—the words of a true disciple of the drink:
The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.
In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint.
As for burgoo, it’s a spicy stew made of beef, chicken, pork and veggies. Back in Clay’s days, however, burgoo could include a bit of whatever animal happened to be around, including venison, raccoon, squirrel, opossum or wild birds. That’s probably how it earned the appetizing nickname of “roadkill soup.”
While wild animals are probably lacking in most pots of burgoo today, each restaurant’s offerings do provide a unique culinary experience since no two places use the exact same blend of spices and ingredients. If you’d like to try and concoct your very own spin on burgoo, Epicurious has a recipe for Kentucky bourbon burgoo, or take your pick from the many other versions on offer.
More from Smithsonian.com: