Food Culture and Recipes

Cultural Foods and Dishes from the Commonwealth

Kentucky food culture is based greatly on its colonels and first settlers who arrived in Kentucky with wagons, horses, chickens and a few goats from North Carolina and Virginia. Even Kentucky Burgoo calls for an ingredient not available in Kentucky, the soft shell blue crab, but there are crawdads. These early settlers as one can imagine ate most anything including turtles, buffalo, elk, rattlesnake, raccoon, opossum, beaver and much more. When they arrived in Kentucky there was no agriculture, but this did not stop them from planting corn, tomatoes, squash, carrots and melons right away.

Everyone has heard about the "Famous Recipe" Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced by Colonel Harland Sanders in 1939 when he opened his first restaurant (Sander's Cafe) in Corbin, Kentucky using pressure cookers to perfect his quick-frying chicken coated in his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. Really there are many other recipes from Kentucky that give us a rich cuisine most often referred to as down home cooking, Southern, or country. Besides chicken, Kentucky is famous for the first moonshine, the best bourbon, cornbread, barbecued mutton, spoon bread, chow-chow, soup beans, the hot brown sandwich and smoked country ham.

Kentucky Colonel Burgoo

A Kentucky Colonel Says it is a Cross Between a Soup and a Stew

"Burgoo." explained an old Kentuckian, "is one of the oldest Kentucky dishes we have. No one knows who first made. "burgoo," nor does anyone know where or how it got its queer name. 'Burgoo' is an out-of-doors creation, and pots of burgoo have simmered over a hot fire in the sun at every big political gathering in the State since Henry Clay was a boy, and years before that, too. It is not only an extremely palatable dish, if you can call it that, but it’s very nourishing. Burgoo is a cross between a stew and a soup.

It is always made in the open air. The 'burgoo' the Blades of Grass ate today was very rich.

"How was it made? Well I took a big caldron, put some red pepper pods in the bottom, added some potatoes, tomatoes and corn; then put in half a dozen prairie chickens, as many more tender ‘yellow legs,’ and a couple dozen soft-shell crabs. I’d have added some young squirrels, but they could not he obtained. When everything is in readiness there is enough water put into the caldron to just make the contents float. Then it is put on the fire. It must be allowed to simmer slowly for six hours and must be stirred constantly with a hickory stick. A hickory stick is best and always used, but another might do as well. When it is nearly done it may be flavored to suit the taste. It is done when the meats are thoroughly shredded, not before. When it is done.

—Umm! The colonel's eyes sparkled at the prospect.

Other Recipes: Mint Julep, Cornbread, Rabbit, Elk, Buffalo, and Snapping Turtle