You can’t talk about Louisville’s food history without talking about Jennie C. Benedict.
Her name might not sound familiar, but you probably know her most famous dish: Benedictine spread, a cucumber-and-cream spread still served often as finger sandwiches, especially for the Kentucky Derby.
Once the most famous caterer in Louisville, Benedict helped define and shape Southern cuisine in Kentucky at the turn of the century. She operated a tearoom and soda fountain, trained at the Boston Cooking School, and offered the first school lunches in Louisville: chicken salad sandwiches sold from a pushcart.
The recipe for that famous chicken salad sandwich can be found in her “The Blue Ribbon Cook Book,” alongside other satisfying, regional classics like corn pudding, blackberry jam cake and Waldorf salad. The book has more than 400 hearty recipes included in its pages.
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But her namesake famous Benedictine spread was not one of them until the paperback edition of “The Blue Ribbon Cook Book” was published in March of this year.
In the new edition, food writer and bourbon aficionado Susan Reigler introduces the story of Benedict’s life and cuisine and welcomes a new generation of readers and cooks to learn about one of the founders of their city’s food traditions.
“I think people will find this book fascinating,” Reigler said. “There’s a lot in here that will be pretty traditional and recognized as very Louisville, like [the recipe for] corn pudding. And other things people will think, ‘Wow, did somebody used to eat that?'”
In “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook,” readers will find Benedict’s recipes for classic dishes like Parker House rolls, lamb chops, cheese and nut sandwiches, rice pudding and griddle cakes, as well as tips like “crush parsley in the fingers to remove the odor of onions.”
Readers will also find historical curiosities, like an entire chapter called “Sick Room Cookery,” filled with recipes like toast water, a raw meat diet consisting of “scraped pulp from a good steak, spread on slices of bread,” creamed eggs and of course, chicken broth.
Brooke Raby, director of sales and marketing at the University Press of Kentucky, said the cookbook is “an iconic book in Kentucky culinary history” filled with beautiful dishes and recipes of the time.
“Susan Reigler’s thorough and delightful introduction brings Jennie’s legacy to the fore, and reminds us that ‘The Blue Ribbon Cook Book’ is more than a collection of recipes,” she said. “It’s Kentucky history, and a new format makes this treasure more accessible to everyone.”
In her introduction, Reigler said Benedict — referred to in the introduction as “Miss Jennie” — has a voice uncannily similar to Julia Child of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” fame. Miss Jennie was known for helping ordinary cooks prepare for elaborate functions, and the cookbook includes menus for formal dinners, informal dinners, and simple luncheons “all of which list far more dishes and courses than are served in most homes today.”
This is one of those cookbooks that has been in high demand. It often disappears from library shelves or is lent to a friend who never returns it.
“I used to get queries when I was at The Courier Journal, and so did the editor and stylist,” Reigler said. “So the University Press of Kentucky was responding to people wanting it, and I think it did pretty well. That’s why it’s being reprinted. It came out in hardcover in 2008, and now it’s in paperback, so there must still be a demand.”
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Benedict’s recipes and techniques have permeated the menus of many Louisville restaurants. Kathy Cary, who Reigler describes as “a modern-day Jennie Benedict,” owns a very well-loved and stained copy of “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook.” Uptown Cafe chef Matt Weber has featured Benedictine spread on smoked salmon canapes, and Holly Hill Inn chef/owner Ouita Michel used a Benedictine recipe when she cooked at the James Beard House in New York City.
Though Cary closed her longstanding restaurant Lily’s Bistro in 2020 to retire, Reigler said she still sees Benedict’s legacy in the city.
Features reporter Dahlia Ghabour covers food, dining trends and restaurants in the Louisville area. Send tips on new places or story ideas to [email protected] or follow on Twitter @dghabour.
The Blue Ribbon Cook Book
WHAT: A fifth-edition reprint of Jennie C. Benedict’s most famous cookbook by the University Press of Kentucky, with a foreword by food writer and bourbon aficionado Susan Reigler. Once the most famous caterer in Louisville, Benedict had a significant influence on the food culture of the city.
PRICE: $16.95 in paperback, $19.95 in hardback
WHERE: Available at local bookstores or by ordering online.
Kentucky Benedictine spread recipe
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened·
3 tablespoons cucumber juice·
1 tablespoon onion juice·
1 teaspoon salt· a few grains of cayenne pepper·
2 drops green food coloring
To get the juice, peel and grate a cucumber, then wrap in a clean dish towel and squeeze juice into a dish. Discard pulp.
Do the same for the onion. Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. Using a blender will make the spread too runny.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Original Benedictine spread recipe from The Blue Ribbon Cook Book