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Food: Hearts for everyone

Published: Monday, February 13, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. (Literally. Watch your step, or you might bump into it.) Many young lovers will be treating their significant others to flowers, boxes of chocolate, or, if they're loyal food column readers, romantic fondue dinners.

For a ladies' man like your friendly neighborhood food columnist, though, there's only one way to convey fondness for that special someone. I'm talking about the original confection of affection, the Necco Sweetheart.

The New England Confection Company (which receives bonus points not only for having a Web site that is a banquet [pun intended] of tasty trivia, but also for being a local candy conglomerate. Revere in the house!) started producing Sweethearts in its current incarnation more than 100 years ago, when grainy, borderline tasteless sugar biscuits were hotter than Theodore Roosevelt's temper (just look at the popularity of the Necco Wafer and Necco Sweetened Blackboard Chalk).

Necco produces more than 8 billion Sweethearts every year. That comes out to 100,000 pounds per day. This column estimates that about 99,999 pounds of that is sugar. More research is needed to certify this assertion, but anyone who has eaten a Sweetheart should feel pretty confident in its validity.

Sweethearts are the No. 1 selling non-chocolate Valentine's Day candy, which is amazing, considering that it's nearly impossible to find anyone, on the face of the earth, who would say "Gee, I can't wait for Valentine's Day so I can eat some Sweethearts. Yum!"

No candy Web site would be complete without a statement regarding how far the annual production would stretch if each individual candy were laid end to end. Necco fails to disappoint: if every Sweetheart made in a year was laid end to end, they would go from New York to Los Angeles. And back! Incredible!

Sweethearts aren't famous for their Pepto Bismol taste or staggering quantity, though. It's the cute little phrases printed on every candy heart that put these little guys on the map. The first Sweethearts were ginormous compared with today's incarnation and, according to the Necco Web site, could fit long phrases like "How long shall I have to wait? Pray be considerate" and "Please send a lock of your hair by return mail." You can't make this stuff up, folks. These throwbacks are valuable: I saw a "By and by, call on me in my sun parlor within a fortnight" Sweetheart going for like 300 bucks on eBay. No joke.

Necco introduces new phrases for its hearts every year, in an effort to keep up with the ever-changing language of love. Notable newbies include "Beep Me" and "IM Me." The food column has it on good authority that Necco will be introducing the "Write a Message on My Facebook Wall" Sweetheart soon.

Phrases are given the axe when they become outdated. Much to the chagrin of the archaeological community, "Dig Me" is no longer printed. In a much simpler time, Necco printed a "You Are Gay" Sweetheart. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The best Sweetheart phrase, though, is the one you come up with yourself. If you've ever fantasized about coming up with your own quippy little Sweetheart statement, Necco can make your dreams come true. You have to buy a whole production run of candies, however, which amounts to 1.6 million Sweethearts. A price tag for this opportunity is conspicuously absent from the site. I'd love to know what kind of person shells out the dough for a full production run of Sweethearts. I think Boston College Sports Marketing should look into it. Could you imagine 1.6 million "SUX2BU" Sweethearts being distributed at tonight's Beanpot Championship? That would certainly make my Valentine's Day.

Tim Czerwienski is a Heights columnist. He welcomes comments at czerwienskit@bcheights.com.

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