A Kentucky Tavern Winter’s Evening, ca. 1840 with Jim Beam’s small batch collection

For the first whiskey dinner by the Big Jones Bourbon Society, we are benefiting from the serendipitous confluence of my planning this dinner while reading Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, in History by John Egerton, in which he states that Kentucky is second only to Louisiana with regards to its culinary traditions, from its chefs, cookbooks, restaurants, hotels, taverns, and home cooking traditions.

First of all, it ain’t no big thing to come up second to Louisiana when it comes to culinary tradition. Louisiana is gifted with an incredible history of multicultural influence along with the benefit of being a major port city for much of its history. I always thought of the Lowcountry as having a more esteemed (certainly much longer) tradition than the Kentucky hill country. The difference in the assessment came as Mr. Egerton penned it, in that the Lowcountry’s traditions have been very much kept in private home kitchens over the years, while Kentucky had a much broader tradition of hospitality through its inns and taverns, plus a home cooking tradition and many useful cookboks. Today the role may be reversed as Charleston’s restaurant scene has become so formidable, but to hear of this tradition in Kentucky gave me an idea.

Second of all, it was a bit of a shock to read of the history of Kentucky’s cooking. Having grown up a stone’s throw from Louisville – due west, in fact – it came as a surprise that my neck of the woods, even as we were across the great divide known as the Mason-Dixon, has been recognized for such great cooking. Don’t get me wrong – I witnessed a fading glimpse of this tradition when I was a young boy, even as it was living its last beautiful days. Chef s like myself in our generation have adopted the charge of saving these traditions and reinvigorating them before industrial-food restaurants and factory farms and the relentless pursuit of cheaper calories snuffs them out. That said, reading of the history of inns and taverns and the great hotels of Louisville, I found the inspiration for our first whiskey dinner. We hope to show you that the traditional way of eating was nourishing in a way that the modern industrial calorie industry cannot be.

As early as the late 18th century, would-be distillers heard the call of Kentucky as word spread of the exceptionally good corn you could grow there. The rest is history. I set out to reconstruct an early-19th century feast much like you could have enjoyed in the finer taverns of the day. One shortcoming we face when trying to reconstruct this cooking: Back in the day, you could fully expect such delicacies as bear, possum, deer, and squirrel to be offered when available. Unfortunately there are restrictions on our ability to sell truly wild game, but I have put together a menu of period dishes based upon foods that would have been commonly available in Bourbon Country in an early-19th century January.

Bourbons poured will come from the Jim Beam small batch collections – Booker’s, Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek, and company, and present an opportunity to taste some fantastic whiskey and mark a few more notches in your Bourbon Passport.

Please join us for a memorable evening.

A Kentucky Tavern Winter’s Evening, ca. 1840

January 25, 2012

6:30 reception
7:00 dinner

  • Pearl onion soup with mutton dumplings

  • Bread service: Rice muffins with calf’s foot jelly

  • Fried oysters with tripe and sweet cream gravy

  • Barbecued shoat with baked beans, hominy, and pumpkin

  • Mince pie

  • Snowballs with pineapple ice cream

$48 per person, includes tax and gratuity

For reservations, call 773-275-5725