It’s true: I was born on the other side of the river from Kentucky, in what is known on our license plates as “Land of Lincoln”. But really, as he said during the War Between the States, “I, too, am a Kentuckian”. When I was a kid on a full violin scholarship to prep school in Illinois, I was first exposed to Kentuckians and their culture. We had invited talented students of Berea College to sing and dance and play spoons. I was fascinated! They work and talent their way through school . . . every single one of ’em. I was in the same position and though I was in a situation where I had to pretend otherwise, I had known hunger. The school treated the college kids to lunch in our swanky cafeteria. I went up to one of the students — I’m sure it was a cute boy, if I know myself at all — and conspiratorially whispered, “Get the shrimp cocktail. It’s really good.”
Things got better in life and I was drawn to Kentucky once again. I went camping in Eastern Kentucky. I dragged my elderly dad and his special needs charge out that way to the Hatfield McCoy Heritage Days, where they got to see the mountains and hear bluegrass music. I started booking a Southern Rock band from there led by David “Chico” Prince, who is enjoying just about the fiercest fame explosion that you ever did see in a middle aged man, since Colonel Harlan Sanders did the same decades ago. I was pretty much the Larry Steinberg character to his Dill Scallion for 7 years, if you saw the movie. He even played at my wedding. A very long time ago, I was once married in Washington County, Kentucky — same as Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, parents of the President.
One of the nicest people in the whole world (even if he is a distant cousin of my ex and he is, same as first Kentucky settler, Daniel Boone) is the man who helped me to become a Kentucky Colonel, Colonel Michael Masters. He’s known far and wide as “The Host of Kentucky”. If I ever learn 1% about Kentucky food and bourbon as he, I’ll be sittin’ pretty.
Speaking of good Kentucky food, don’t you just love family businesses and their entrepreneurial, American pioneering spirit? Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is home to Bauer’s Candies, a 4th generation, 120 year old company. Owner/Operator Anna Bauer is the first daughter in the family at the helm. Yay, Girl Power! I was happy to be hosted to experience it.
Their unique claim to fame is the Modjeska, with roots back to 1883. Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska, famed queen of the European stage, starred in a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I’ve seen that play! Anyway, a friendly candy competitor was granted the right to name a confection after her. When the competitor closed down operations in 1947, the Bauer’s renamed their “caramel biscuit” after their friend’s candy. They’re soft, buttery/creamy caramels stuffed with hand-made marshmallows. They use the freshest, richest ingredients and classic techniques — and they would never think of doing it any other way. You really need to think of them in the same realm as the finest dessert wines. Just as the rare wines have acid to balance the sweetness, the Modjeskas have a hint of salt and rich cream that makes the candy more subtly sweet. Their advertising has it right: have a nice piece or two with a lovely cup of tea or dark coffee. “Everything in moderation,” my still model-slender mom intones. That’s how you do it!
Similarly, the sea salt caramel also has the duality that makes it a satisfying treat. They even have a bourbon sea salt caramel — well, this is Kentucky, after all!
Valentine’s Day is coming quickly upon us. If you don’t have a favorite Valentine to send Bauer’s Candies to, I’ll gladly fulfill the role.