It would be easy to miss the small storefront in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, that houses Muth's Candies. I'm lucky enough to have relatives in the know; they're among the loyal Louisvillians who have continued to beat a path to Muth's door for 90 years now. The candy is that good.
The selection is extensive—more so, really than seems practical for an operation of this modest size. There are 14 flavors of cream-filled chocolates, each hand-decorated with a mark indicating the flavor of the filling: a B for buttercream, a star for banana, an M for mint. "We've all been doing this since we were kids," says third-generation proprietor Martha Vories. "The hardest thing is to dip the chocolate. It's like, you can sing or you can't; you can draw or you can't."
There are also eight different kinds of nut brittle; orange, raspberry, and lemon jellies swaddled in dark or milk chocolate; Kentucky bourbon bonbons with a semisweet-chocolate coating and a boozy kick; addictive, chocolate-coated molasses chips called Honeycombs that snap between your teeth. And let's not forget the luscious caramels in vanilla, chocolate, coconut, vanilla-pecan, licorice, ribbon (that's chocolate and vanilla with nougat in between), and raspberry-raisin flavors "Ours contain a lot more cream than other caramels," Vories says. "Real cream. There are always companies trying to sell me powdered cream, powdered butter. Um, no."
My favorite is the Modjeska, a caramel-covered marshmallow named for the Polish actress Helena Modjeska, who made quite a splash when she performed in the city back in 1883. It's made as it always has been, using the same copper pots and carefully maintained equipment, in a room at the back of the shop. Poke your head in and you'll likely find not only Vories but also her sisters Rose Ann Stacy and Pam Hensley, often her brother, Stanley J. Bennett Jr., and whichever nieces, nephews, and family friends are on hand to pitch in.
The shop's weathered the Depression, the great flood of 1937, World War II—when friends shared their sugar rations to keep the place going—and nearly a century's worth of changing tastes and rising costs. But the original recipes remain sacrosanct. "That's how it is," Vories says. "You do this job for love, not for money." Prices range from $2.25 for a bag of peppermint sticks to $40 for a two-pound deluxe chocolate assortment. To order, call 800/556-8847 or visit muthscandy.com.
Clockwise from top left: ribbon caramel; Kentucky bourbon bonbon; Honeycombs; vanilla caramel; peanut brittle; Modjeska; chocolate-covered fruit jelly; raspberry-raisin caramel.