The last Saturday in April is almost like Christmas to us. It’s the running of the annual Maryland Hunt Cup, often referred to as the most difficult timber race in the world. In fact, the winner of the Hunt Cup is automatically invited to race in England’s Grand National steeplechase the following year (it’s held in early April).
Much of the planning for spectators at the Hunt Cup is predicated on the weather forecast. If it’s warm and sunny, then shirts and ties, and sundresses and sandals prevail. If it’s cool and overcast, you will see lots of tweeds, cords, Barbour jackets and wellie boots. Regardless of the weather, you will be marked as a rank amateur if you’re wearing high heels, ladies!
We could take a lesson from some of the race-goers in England with their tweeds and hats. When you see pictures of past Hunt Cups, everyone’s dressed in tweeds, jackets and ties and skirts, including the grooms. This gal in her mustard skirt and jacket and purple tights, and the gents in their tweeds look perfect. Check out my Pinterest board called “What to Wear to the Races… Or Not”. One of the highlights of the day, other than the race, is the pre-race tailgating. Competition for the prettiest and most extravagant picnic is fierce. But we figure that our table has an edge that no one else’s does: We use a retired Hunt Cup Trophy for our floral centerpiece!
J. Fred Colwill won the Hunt Cup three times, in 1938, 1939 and 1940, on Blockade, and after the third win, the trophy was retired and a new one was struck. All of these years later, it is back at the Hunt Cup, but this time holding gorgeous flowers from the garden. Of course, the food and drink for the picnic is equally important. Luckily, it’s been cool the past few years, so there’s not much danger of things spoiling. We always have fried chicken, and have found that the Royal Farm Stores (RoFo) has very good chicken. You can order it ahead of time for the race.
People are going to pick at the food all afternoon, so finger foods are best. Chips and dips, cheese and crackers, pretzels and goldfish are all good. If you bring a salad, like we did, wait and let everyone dress their own plate, otherwise, it will get soggy. Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto is an elegant finger-friendly dish.What you want to avoid is people balancing their plates and using knives and forks, all while standing and trying to look chic. Add a napkin and a drink to that and you have a recipe for disaster.
We always like to have some sweets, and bite size brownies are always good. You can add chocolate chips or After Eight mints, or even swirl some raspberry jam through the brownie batter, to up your game on these traditional favorites. It’s fun to also have some fruit, like strawberries or grapes.Now, the critical element: the drinks. We always have Southsides. We have always used the late Mr. Lee’s Mix if it’s available, or home-made if it’s not. As an FYI, if you’re trying to reverse-engineer Mr. Lee’s mix, and think that there’s one critical element missing, you are right. Try grating the smallest bit of ginger into the mix and see what happens!
We aren’t big fans of serving our drinks in Ball jars, instead, we use old silver julep cups. But all the pictures of drinks in julep cups were… juleps!Have some soft drinks and plenty of bottled water in a cooler, especially if it’s warm out. You don’t want to be responsible for over-serving your guests. That’s being a bad host.
Be sure to stop by and see our friend Sam Robinson (the man who painted Connor’s picture) who will have his paints and easel set up near the finish line. Sam’s a plein-air painter, and will be painting sketches of the day. It’s fun to watch him work and see how he interprets the scene before him.
See you at the race!
Reprinted from Baltimore Fishbowl, April 25, 2015