Ruth Hanly Booe, Mother of the Bourbon Ball


Hard to believe, but it’s once again time for Funny Names in Food. That thing I did up there, with the “Booe!”? Simply my way of jumping into a post I’m excited about. A bit of background first.

Last month we met Kentuckian Pappy Van Winkle, funny-named bourbon distiller extraordinaire. I hinted then that I’d bring a few more Kentucky folk your way, and today we follow through on that promise.

If you’re in Kentucky and you’re sipping bourbon (or even if you’re not sipping bourbon), there is most likely a box of Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls close at hand. These chocolate-coated, bourbon-laced confections are the result of one friendship, two women, and a handful of funny names.

Rebecca Gooch and Ruth Hanly were 20-somethings in 1919. Unhappy as substitute teachers, they decided instead to follow their true passion: making chocolates. Though women entrepreneurs (and single ones at that) were unheard of in the early 1900s, Rebecca and Ruth forged ahead and co-founded their candy enterprise just the same.

They had help from J.J. King, owner of the Frankfort Hotel. Closed by prohibition, his hotel had rooms available and Rebecca and Ruth rented one such room to make their fine confections. Imaginative and bold women, they soon had a successful business.

Ruth Hanley became Ruth Hanly Booe in 1924 when she married Douglas Booe. (Funny names fans take note: she took on the nickname “Mrs. Boo” shortly thereafter.) Douglas died only a few years into the marriage, after which Ruth devoted herself fully to raising her son and making candy.

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After Rebecca married in 1929, she chose to sell her portion of the business to Ruth. Soon after, the Great Depression hit; Ruth’s candy business struggled to survive. Ever determined, Ruth spent downtime experimenting with recipes and invented such gems as Ruth’s Mint Kentucky Colonel, a candy still popular today.

Bad luck struck again in 1933 when a fire wiped out Ruth’s home and factory. Unable to secure a loan to rebuild her losses, Ruth didn’t lose hope. Enter Fanny Rump (yes BoFN fans, we have another Fanny—score!), a hotel housekeeper who loaned Ruth $50 to start anew.

The (brilliant) idea to combine bourbon and chocolate was given to Ruth in 1936 by dignitary Eleanore Hume Offett. Booe worked two years to perfect the recipe for Rebecca Ruth’s claim to fame: bourbon balls. Denied rations for sugar and other supplies during World War II, Ruth depended on the kindness of dedicated customers and friends, who saved their rations for her candies.

Ruth retired in 1964 and passed her candy business on to son, John, who sold it to his son Charles (not a funny name among them) in 1997.

Creeping up on 100 years of production, Rebecca Ruth has a strong history of triumph over adversity. If you don’t live in Kentucky and don’t want to part with the cash to order online, you can make their signature candy yourself.

This video confirms my suspicion that there is nothing you can’t learn to do at YouTube.

Thanks for coming by! – Liz @ food for fun

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About Liz

Owner of deLizious Food Communications. Projects include recipe development, editing, and formatting; food writing and editing; nutrition analysis; public speaking and cooking instruction. Past and present clients: General Mills, Green Giant Fresh, Hormel, Minnesota Beef Council, Minnesota Soybean, Minnesota Pork Producers, Norwood Promotional Products, Pillsbury, Tad Ware, and Weight Watchers Publishing. Mother of two young girls.
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33 Responses to Ruth Hanly Booe, Mother of the Bourbon Ball

  1. amb says:

    Is it too early in the day for a bourbon ball? More importantly, does it count as day drinking if there’s chocolate involved?! So many important questions to ponder! Just like there are so many great names in this post … nice one, Liz!

    Also, I feel like there’s a good pun in there somewhere about Ms Gooch and her delicious chocolate hooch, but I’ll leave that to our experts …

    • Liz says:

      Hey, amb! To answer your Qs: No, never. And no, of course not silly. I’ll be here all day if you have any more 😉

      Hadn’t seen that pun potential, so good call on that. Am going to put Arto, Dave, and Rob on the case. Boys? Where are you? Can you help amb with that?

      Thanks for coming by so early in the morn, amb. Love your comments always.

  2. Bumba says:

    This was very informative. I thought that bourbon balls could only be found on French kings.

  3. wdydfae says:

    A fun and sprightly piece, Liz! Nice work. And the chocolate looks good.

    • Liz says:

      Hey, diddy. So glad you’re here! Nice you could break away from all that hullabaloo at WBS. Was hoping you’d come by for my YouTube debut. You’re right on the blog cross-pollination. Why just a few days ago you had kids singing about vegetables in you post.

      My youngest got a new joke book, so am going to page through in hopes of having something to send your way. Also, they both have friends over today so will sit them all down soon to figure out the matter of Who is The Boy in your Tempura video once and for all.

  4. Arto says:

    Gooch, Booe and Rump?! You may have hit the mother lode here, Liz. What a grand story.

    • Liz says:

      hey, thanks, Arto. The post was originally going to be about Booe and Gooch, but I kept running into other crazy names. They had me a bourbon balls (they’re really really tasty if you ever have a chance to try) but the good stuff just kept raining down!

  5. Now that’s one heck of a way to start a day! Bourbon balls none the less.

    And someone named Fanny Rump. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.

  6. Bonnie says:

    Liz! Great post…excellent assortment of names, and I have to agree, Fanny Rump! oh my! I can only hope that she lived up to her, shall we say, unique and snickering kind of name!

    I concur with Amb’s questions, and applaud your answers. Thank you for that!

    Bourbon balls… Butter.Sugar. PLUS bourbon? Yes, please. It was fun watching the southern cook prepare these and the slower pace of things. It gave me an idea…one that if it actually happens, and actually works, I will surely share with you. Pinky promise.

    Thanks for stirring me out of my summer cold blues! Three cheers for the bourbon balls!

    – b

    • Liz says:

      Thanks, Bonnie. Fanny Rump is almost too good to be true. Really? If YOUR last name was Rump (heaven forbid), would you name an offspring Fanny? Sheesh. Oh good gosh the snickers…

      The bourbon balls were dreamy. Was in Kentucky for a wedding and the bride’s family had made piles of this type of bourbon ball for the reception. What a lot of work! I gave it a go, too, soon after our return and thinking I made about four batches (!) and finally threw in the (dish) towel. Betty makes it look easy in her (painstakingly not fast-moving–oh my gosh, you are indeed patient to sit through) video, but I just couldn’t get the consistency right.

      What’s fun is that all the distilleries (Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, etc) contract with RR to make a bourbon ball with their bourbon. Imagine the tastings! Sugar coma for sure.

      Liking a pinky promise. And hurrah! hurrah! hurrah for bourbon balls!

      • Dave says:

        “Oh good gosh the snickers” is one of the greatest phrases I’ve ever heard. I’m going to try to use that at least once in the next week or two.

        • Liz says:

          I think that’s a good thing. Also, looking for some help with the gooch pun 😉 (see first couple of comments)

          Hope you’re having a good break. LV yet? You should definitely use the “good gosh snickers” phrase in Vegas.

          • Dave says:

            I’ll be heading out to LV on Friday morning. You have my word that I will use that phrase in Vegas and report back to you.

            I’ll think about the Gooch pun. The first ones that come to mind aren’t too kosher….

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