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.
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.