French Country Picnic

Susie Smithers knows that the success of a tailgate – besides good company, of course – lies in the presentation. “I try to make everything as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” says the manager of Dahne & Weinstein Gifts who, with husband Ned Dukehart and three of their friends, enjoyed the recent Hunt Cup from the gate of a Volvo.

The station wagon’s trunk, draped in a green and rose floral tablecloth the couple purchased on a trip to the south of France, was laden with artful edibles prepared by Susie. “I put a lot of thought into color,” notes the former caterer. “Not just the tablecloth, the flowers, the plates, napkins and glasses – I like the food and drinks to be colorful too.”

The refined picnic included wild asparagus picked that morning near the stone cottage Susie and Ned call home. It was topped with chopped eggs and a dill vinaigrette. Tenderloin of beef was served with cherry tomatoes, capers and a homemade mayonnaise. Susie ladled her own cranberry chutney over brie, and finished with a lovely lemon cake mounded with strawberries dipped in chocolate and lemon glazes.

You might say that for Susie, pulling together a Hunt Cup picnic is a labor of love: It was at the steeplechase race eight years ago that a friend “discovered” Ned for Susie. “She came back to New York, where I was living at the time, to tell me she’d met the perfect man for me. We’ve been together ever since. Hunt Cup is very special to me.”

Mix and Match

When Ellie and John Schapiro go to the Hunt Cup, they like to gather a bunch of old friends, throw in a handful of out-of-towners “to make it festive” and let the fun begin. “A party is always successful if you get everyone to participate in one way or another,” says Ellie, a Hunt Cup veteran of some 40 years.

This year’s ranks included Ellie’s brother, former senator Joe Tyldings, who brought the drinks (including family-recipe Bloody Marys); Caroline and Jerry Stautberg, who made fried chicken; and neighbors Reeveley and Dick Moore who arrived with a cheese tray.

Three out-of-towners – two Texans and a Londoner – rounded out the mix. And Ellie’s son Joe Gillet, who rode Welter Weight in the race, provided the group plenty of excitement – and some alarm when he fell at the ninth fence. (He was uninjured, thankfully.)

The rest was left to Ellie, who brought a tray piled high with roast beef accompanied by a tart horseradish sauce. Celery and carrots were served in a fitting horse-shaped basket and offered with a store-bought avocado dip customized with a few dashes of Tabasco and lemon juice. She turned to caterer Carol Martielli of Monkton for a selection of miniature tarts: crab-salad tartlets in whole-wheat crusts, sundried-tomato and wild-mushroom tartlets, and lemon curd tartlets topped with candied violets. Martinelli’s Queen Mothers—petits fours of chocolate and almond – and chocolate-dipped strawberries concluded the meal.

The picnic, which arrived in the Schapiros’ vintage Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, was set up on a long folding table brightened by a simple bouquet of tulips from their Monkton garden.

Old Cars, Old Whiskeys

For the 1995 Hunt Cup, Henry Wright couldn’t decide whether to show up in a 1952 Bentley, a 1917 Model T distillery truck or a 1948 Chevrolet “Woody” station wagon. He also had but a vague idea what he and his four guests would be dining on – someone would probably bring crab cakes or fried chicken, he predicted.

He did know this: There would be Maryland straight rye whiskey to drink, plus a batch of his special Maryland Rye Sours. When Wright, owner of Atlantic Wine and Spirits distributors and Atlantic Distillers, goes to the races, other people help with the food and the trimmings; he’s “the car and the alcohol department,” he says.

And for good reason. Wright’s been collecting old cars since boyhood, and old Maryland whiskeys since adulthood. Maryland straight rye whiskey, he says, is what everybody drank in Maryland before prohibition and up until the 1950s, when whiskeys lost popularity to the likes of vodka and rum. In the ‘70s, Wright began buying up the remaining bottles from the last hundred or so remaining distillers as they closed shop.

Bouncing along in the back of the Woody on the trip from Selsed Vineyards, Wright’s Lutherville home, to the Hunt Cup, were his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Schooner, and a picnic prepared by his guests (devilled eggs, steamed shrimp, strawberries with powdered sugar, “and I think there was fried chicken and maybe crab cakes”). There were also six bottles of 30-plus-year-old Maryland ryes: Old Preakness Rye Whiskey, Pikesville Rye, Chesapeake Rye, K&L Rye, Pimlico Rye and Hunt Cup Rye. Maryland rye whiskey “was all you ever saw at the Hunt Cup; it was all people drank.”

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