Helena Modjeska Lives On in Kentucky–And You Can Eat Her!

I was in Kentucky recently for business, and had to take a distillery tour of one of my favorite bourbons: Woodford Reserve. The one-and-a-half hour tour of Kentucky's oldest distillery (although the brand dates back only to the 1990s) costs five friggin' bucks, is informative, is in the beautiful Kentucky riverlands, and ends with a sample. Highly recommended.

But the bourbon isn't the point of this post. As I was in the gift shot, I noticed the above jar. The name Modjeska, of course, is part of the Orange County landscape, the surname of the legendary Polish actress Helena Modjeska who settled in Orange County and lived here for decades. But what the hell was the name doing in north-central Kentucky?

I asked the worker at the counter who was Modjeska. “Some actress from long ago.” Now, I was intrigued…


It turns out that Modjeska had visited Kentucky once, in Louisville in the early 1880s, to appear in the American debut of Ibsen's A Doll's House. A confectioner was so enthralled by her performance that he asked if his company could name a candy after her. Modjeska agreed, and the caramel-covered marshmallow biscuit is now the pride of Bauer's Candies, which distributes modjeskas (always lower-cased) across Kentucky.

The candy itself is what you expect marshmallow covered with caramel to be: chewy, an overdose of sweet flavors, but with the two ingredients still maintain their distinctiveness. I'm actually not a big fan of marshmallows, but found the modjeskas perfect for quick snacks.

What intrigues me the most, however, is why modjeskas never migrated to the land of Modjeska. I had never heard of the candy–and remember: I fancy myself an amateur expert on everything historical OC–and none of the historians I contacted had ever heard of modjeskas, either. Why didn't modjeskas make the trek out West? Ah, the culinary mysteries of the world…

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