Hearts a-Bustin’ with Love

The wife and I staged an impromptu breakout from Pastry Pen on Friday, and lit out for Bardstown, Kentucky, a small historic berg about 30 miles south of Louisville. We were only gone two nights, but with the amount of relaxation we worked in, it felt like two weeks. I’m still feeling lazy. Bardstown is a city of about 10,000 people who, over time, have done as good a job of preserving their local history as any community I know. The town dates to the 1780’s, and while there aren’t any buildings there that date back quite that far, the central district is packed with beautiful examples of Georgian, Antebellum and Victorian-era architecture. On top of which they still have a downtown with shops, diners and a soda fountain. The cherry on the Bardstown cake is that it’s all treated with a kind of quiet dignity and pride. No college history majors traipsing up and down the streets in knee socks and tri-corn hats shouting “Hear Ye! Hear Ye!” and threatening to clap yon saucy ill-clad wench in irons. Mostly just the buildings, the odd handsome cab and a Halloween-season ghost tour. I can live with that.

Unwary vacationers in Kentucky always run the risk of landing in a “dry” county if they aren’t careful. Some two-thirds of the state prohibits the sale (if not precisely the consumption) of alcohol. Not here. 90% of the world’s Bourbon is produced within a 60-mile radius of Bardstown. In fact there are two distilleries right in town, including one that makes my favorite premium brand, 1792. On a still night they suffuse the entire town with the sweet, sweet smell of booze.

Saturday we woke up around ten, and by noon had stumbled over to a nearby forest and arboretum called Bernheim, where we passively absorbed a bit of knowledge about local flora and fauna. The highlight of the visit, aside from a giant toad one of the rangers had on display, was a shrub that a volunteer guide showed us: Euonymus americanus, the so-called “American strawberry”. Not an eating strawberry, the fruits of the plant are fleshy little pinky-red pods that pop open in the late summer to reveal tiny bright red seeds. Here in Kentucky (and, so I understand, Tennessee) the plant is known as “Hearts a-Bustin’ with Love”. How can you not love that, I ask you?

Yesterday morning we rose slightly early and drove out of town for Sunday mass with some Trappist monks at a local abbey, then headed over to the Maker’s Mark distillery for a tour. That’s Catholicism for you. Oh, and a word of warning to all those thinking about traveling and eating in central Kentucky. If you find yourself in a local pub and the barkeep offers you an appetizer of “lamb fries” say no. They’re deep fried mutton testicles, and they go very poorly with beer.

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