UPDATE on 9/29/20 – I was honored with Kentucky’s highest honor this month, an accolade given by the Governor of the Commonwealth himself! I speak of nothing less than being elected to receive the honorable title of Kentucky Colonel! Learn more about the award, its history and more here.
Citizens, we interrupt our Pizza recipes posting with this urgent reminder – the Kentucky Derby is this weekend and if you aren’t planning an apropos spread around this most elegant of events, you’re missing a great opportunity!
One of the most classic items on a Derby Day table is Benedictine spread – a cucumber classic that is usually an insipid, electric and artificial green cream cheese spread that elicits a collective yawn at best or whispers of despair at worst from party guests. Derby Day is supposed to be crackling with excitement, so the revolutionary who ALONE is TFD has heretically and deliciously amped-up this tired classic with a kicky and herbaceous upgrade!
Benedictine or benedictine spread is a spread made with cucumbers and cream cheese. Invented near the beginning of the 20th century in Kentucky, it was originally and still is used for making cucumber sandwiches, but in recent years it has been used as a dip or combined with meat in a sandwich. This spread can be obtained pre-made from some Louisville area grocery stores. Benedictine is rarely seen in restaurants outside the state of Kentucky.
Benedictine was invented near the beginning of the 20th century by Jennie Carter Benedict, a caterer, restaurateur and cookbook author in Louisville. Benedict opened a kitchen for providing catering services in 1893, and in 1900 opened a restaurant and tea room called Benedict’s. It was probably during her catering period when she invented and originally served benedictine.
Benedict’s cook books are still being sold a century after they were first published. For example, her The Blue Ribbon Cook Book, which first published in 1902, has been reprinted numerous times and most recently in 2008. Although early editions of this book do not contain a recipe for the spread, the most recent edition does.
Following are the original benedictine recipe ingredients used by Benedict, as reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal and NPR:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 tbsps. cucumber juice
1 tbsp. onion juice
1 tsp. salt
A few grains of cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring
The original spread is made by thoroughly blending all these ingredients with a fork.
Modern variants of the recipe use grated or chopped cucumber and onions rather than juice, as well as dill and common spread ingredients. They also use significantly less salt.
In my version, I have added in spicy cucumbers (flavored with Turkish urfa biber smoky chili flakes and wasabi) and dill pickle relish to amp up the flavor quotient dramatically. You can buy urfa biber chili flakes here. TFD uses only Mt. Olive Deli-Style Simply Relish for this recipe – you can find it here.
Instead of green artificial food coloring, I use spinach leaves and tarragon to color and flavor the spread as well as seasonal green garlic (if you can’t find it, use ramps or just minced regular garlic).
Adding some crumbled soft bacon and spreading this onto crustless bread makes for a tea sandwich with serious attitude and even more serious flavor – a welcome respite from the boring, IMHO.
Dyed-in-the-wool Kentucky traditionalists with delicate palates will eschew my recipe – but I am very confident everyone else in TFD Nation will delight in my special version of this classic recipe! Enjoy your Derby Day, Citizens!
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