Home cooks have always used indigenous ingredients, and in Kentucky, bourbon has always been on hand. Even in dry counties, this special spirit has been used to flavor everything from pork chops to ice cream.
“My grandmother was a strict teetotaler, but she never minded tipping the bottle into anything she was fixing,” says David Larson, chef-in-residence at the Woodford Reserve distillery. Perhaps nowhere does bourbon’s blend of spice and sweetness meld so well as with pie, and bourbon pie is a classic Kentucky recipe. “The bourbon gives the pie a more complex flavor,” Larson says. “The bourbon flavor rides on the wings of the sugar, and they really work well together. You have to remember that to make bourbon, there are yeasts and sugars involved. There’s a wonderful kinship there.” That relationship adds depth, but because the pie is baked, the alcohol is cooked out.
Bourbon can be added to almost any sort of pie—from peach cobblers to chocolate creams—but the classic recipe is just a basic, filled-custard affair, similar to a pecan pie without the pecans (but some cooks do add nuts or chocolate bits, too.). Nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and even black pepper can also be added to bring out different nuances of the bourbon in the pie, but be careful not to add too much. The pie can be served plain or topped with cream or an elegant meringue. “It’s kind of a Sunday dinner-type of pie, and it’s especially popular around Derby time,” Larson says.
—By Jeanette Hurt