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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This summer we're telling the stories behind some of the country's most popular regional candies and candy stores. Rick Howlett of member station WFPL reports now about a Louisville confection that dates back to the Victorian era and a man's infatuation with an actress.

RICK HOWLETT, BYLINE: In the back room of Muth's Candies, Jonathon Skaggs and Bobby Masterson are busy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FORKS CLINKING)

HOWLETT: They use forks to dip marshmallows into a copper pot. It contains a secret, hot caramel mixture. They tap off the excess before placing the candy on a board. Masterson says it's a rhythm repeated hundreds of times each day.

BOBBY MASTERSON: They're good. They're a big-time seller in here in Kentucky, especially right here in Louisville. There's a lot of people that come and get 'em.

HOWLETT: The soft, sticky candy is the Modjeska, a name coined by Anton Busath, a French confectioner who immigrated to Louisville. Busath was enamored with Polish actress Helena Modjeska, who performed in theatres near his downtown shop in the 1880s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOWLETT: The candy maker had spent years perfecting his "caramel biscuit." He called it, "the Modjeska." The Shakespearean actress was hugely popular in the United States and even today has a dedicated following. This music is from a video tribute on the Helena Modjeska Society's website.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOWLETT: Duke University Professor Beth Holmgren published a biography of Modjeska.

BETH HOLMGREN: There are lots of things named after her. The candy is the only thing that is still sold. It was a way of encouraging - consuming your actress.

ROSE ANN STACY: It is a heavenly piece of candy. When you watch people for the first time put it in their mouth, they just...mmm.

HOWLETT: That's Rose Ann Stacy, whose family has run Muth's Candies since 1921. After Anton Busath's shop was destroyed by fire in 1947, his son gave the Modjeska recipe to Muth's. It's the most popular treat at Muth's. They sell thousand of pounds of it each year. Guests in some Louisville hotels will find a complimentary Modjeska on their pillows.

And Rose Ann is always happy to unwrap a free sample in the store.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANDY WRAPPER)

HOWLETT: Mmm...ah, that's good. Not too sweet. You would think it would be very sweet, but it's not.

STACY: If anybody has ever lived in Louisville, had anyone that lived in Louisville and received these, they call and get them. Because, they have to have, as they'll say, they'll have to have their Modjeska fix.

HOWLETT: A Modjeska craving brought Amy Harty into the store. She's a Louisville native who now lives in New England.

AMY HARTY: They have a very special flavor. I mean, nothing of which I've ever had before. And people say the same thing in Boston, they're just like, wow, these are so good.

HOWLETT: So good, and long enduring. For NPR news, I'm Rick Howlett in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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