Derby Pie is a chocolatey tradition that has its humble roots in the mid-20th century. It can now be found in freezer cases far and wide, but it was originally the signature dish at a rural inn.
“Kern’s Kitchen started out as the old Melrose Inn, a nice little country inn out in Prospect, Kentucky,” says Alan Rupp, President of Kern’s Kitchen. “My grandparents and my uncle Started managing that property back in the early 1950s, and they developed the pie as their specialty item for the Melrose Inn.”
Once they’d perfected the recipe, the Kerns came up with several possible names for their dessert. They put the names in a hat and drew Derby Pie. The legend was born.
“When I first came into the business, the grandparents were baking out of two regular Frigidaire ranges, baking six pies at a time,” says Rupp. “Now we’re baking 80 pies at a time as opposed to six pies at a time, but we’re still putting out the same recipe that the grandparents and Uncle George started back in the 50s.”
The Derby Pie recipe is a closely guarded secret, even to the kitchen staff at Kern’s. When the production manager is combining the ingredients for the filling, he does it behind a closed curtain, and the finished product is pumped out through the curtain into the filler.
Derby Pie is a brand name belonging to Kern’s Kitchen. While chocolate and walnut pies abound around the Commonwealth, especially close to Derby Day, Kern’s declares that their Derby Pie is unique—they say no one has been able to crack that secret recipe.
“A lot of Grandma and Grandpa Kern and uncle George are still here,” says Rupp. “A lot of the things we do now are directly related to what they did back in those days. Fort the mixing we do on the dough, you’ll see our specialty mixer incorporates the flour and the shortening like grandma used to do with a knife and fork only in a bigger batch. Instead of doing 16 ounces of dough at a time we’re doing 160 pounds of dough at a time. That’s where it all starts, a light flaky dough, but it’s a real part of the experience of the pie.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2016, which originally aired on May 2, 2015. Watch the full episode.