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The Origin of the Conversation Heart

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Valentine's Day means chalky candy hearts with a lot to say. But what's behind these very loud little candies?

The story of conversation hearts began in 1847, when a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase longed for a way to get in on the apothecary lozenge craze. Lozenges were quickly gaining steam as the medicine conveyance of choice, and were also popular remedies for sore throats and bad breath. But making lozenges was complicated and time-consuming—the process involved a mortar and pestle, kneading dough, rolling it out, and cutting it into discs that would eventually become lozenges.

There had to be a better way, and Oliver came up with it. Inspired by the new wave of gadgets and tools that hit America as it industrialized, he invented a machine that rolled lozenge dough and pressed wafers into perfect discs. Oliver had inadvertently created America’s first candy-making machine, and before long, he had abandoned his pharmacy business to crank out miles of what would become New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) wafers.

Legend has it that Oliver’s NECCO wafers were carried by Civil War soldiers, and some speculate that the tradition of sending loving greetings to the troops morphed into the conversation heart, but those claims are hard to verify. What is clear is that as Oliver built his candy empire, his brother Daniel decided he wanted a piece of the action. 

Inspired by the growing market for Valentine’s cards (which were popularized in the United States by Esther Howland, also a resident of Boston at the time), Daniel wondered if it would be possible to print sentimental messages on candy. In 1866, he figured out a way to print words on candy with vegetable dye during the cutting process.

People loved conversation candies (they weren’t available in heart shapes until 1902) and their witty messages, which could stoke the flames of love or warn off flaky suitors. Daniel’s candies were bigger than today’s version and had phrases like “MARRIED IN WHITE YOU HAVE CHOSEN RIGHT” and “HOW LONG SHALL I HAVE TO WAIT? PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE” emblazoned on a pastel, scalloped wafer. 

By the turn of the century, the conversation heart was a Valentine’s cliché. Here’s how they were used at a Boston party in 1911:

Partners for the evening were found by means of candy “motto” hearts. These were broken in two, and each young lady was given a piece, but the men were obliged to hunt for theirs. As they were carefully hidden, this took some length of time and proved an excellent ‘ice breaker.’ The silly mottoes were read with laughter as the couples chose their tables.

Over the years, conversation hearts lost size, but gained many more phrases. NECCO estimates that it makes nearly 100,000 pounds of the hearts each day throughout the year in preparation for Valentine’s Day. Among this year’s selection? BFF, TE AMO, and GIRL POWER.

Additional Sources: Alfred Stillé and John Michael Maisch,The National Dispensatory: Containing the Natural History, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Actions and Uses of Medicines, Including Those Recognized in the Pharmacopœias of the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, with Numerous References to the French CodexSweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy The Mother of the Valentine,” WBUR News; "Civil War Soldiers and Conversation Hearts,” The Historical SocietyEntertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super BowlThe Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics, Volume 15The History of Sweethearts; “2015’s 8 New Phrases for Conversation Hearts,” WGNA.

This post originally ran in 2015.

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Kinder Eggs Will Finally Be (Legally) Available in the U.S.
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Kinder eggs are finally coming to the U.S., bringing delightful toys and milky chocolate to Americans, according to CNN Money.

While black-market Kinder Surprise eggs are already relatively easy to find in the U.S., they are technically forbidden by the FDA because they contain inedible toys, which makes them a choking hazard in the eyes of the law.

The legal Kinder eggs coming to the U.S. in January 2018 will be a little different than those available in Europe. Instead of Kinder Surprise, the eggs that Ferrero (the Italian company that makes, in addition to Kinder chocolate, Nutella and Tic Tacs) is launching will be Kinder Joy, a variety that comes in two individually packaged halves. One half contains chocolate cream with two wafers and a teeny spoon to eat them with, and the other contains the toy.

Kinder Joy eggs also differ from Kinder Surprises in that their marketing is gender-segregated, with both a blue "boys" version and a pink "girls" version (despite the fact that many toy makers have moved away from marketing their wares to specific genders, doing away with stereotypical assignations for action figures or princess dolls).

As with all Kinder products, the U.S. is way behind—Kinder Joys have been available in Italy since 2001, and are widely available around the world.

The spoonable cream of Kinder Joy may not satisfy the die-hard fans of Kinder Surprise’s sweet chocolate shell, but alas. Gotta protect the children.

[h/t CNN Money]

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The 11 Sweetest Taffy Shops to Hit This Summer
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What’s a vacation without a sweet treat? You may stick to your diet the rest of the year, but walking down a boardwalk just isn't the same without a few pieces of salt water taffy in your bag.

Bringing back a souvenir box of taffy is almost a given if you are heading to the beach—or down the shore, as they say in New Jersey, where salt water taffy got its start. Many boardwalk candy stores feature a machine going through the mesmerizing display of pulling and twisting the taffy. And though candy stores seem to collect at beach resorts like seagulls, there are a number of taffy stops farther inland as well. Here are some of the most interesting in the country:

1. & 2. FRALINGER'S AND JAMES' // ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY

Atlantic City is the mecca of salt water taffy, as it should be: The stuff was invented there. Fralinger’s and James’ are two venerable taffy establishments that were once rivals, but are now actually owned by the same company. Joseph Fralinger started selling taffy on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1880s and got the idea of selling gift boxes of the sweets as a seaside souvenir—Fralinger’s still sells a vintage-looking taffy box that says “Sea air and sunshine sealed in every box.” Very quickly, Enoch James came along and created a salt water taffy recipe that was slightly less sticky and easier to unwrap. For a quick visual identification of the two brands, Fralinger’s taffy is shaped like a small log, while James’ is shorter and wider, a shape “cut-to-fit-the-mouth,” as they advertise.

3. ROMAN CANDY // NEW ORLEANS

Roman Candy has been selling its candy for more than 100 years not from a storefront, but from a horse-drawn wagon (well, now the company uses a mule to pull that same wagon). Their primary fare is long sticks of taffy that are based on the original family recipe used by Angelina Napoli Cortese in the early 1900s. The taffy is made right in the wagon, and unlike taffy operations that offer dozens of flavors, Roman Candy has just three: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

4. DIAMOND HEAD TAFFY // HONOLULU

If you'd expect that taffy from a tropical paradise would come in tropical flavors, Diamond Head Taffy doesn't disappoint. Among their offerings are flavors like coconut, guava, mango, and li hing mui (dried plum). The company says its product is creamier than other taffies and includes egg whites and Hawaiian sea salt in the mix.

5. LLOYD'S OF AVALON // CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA

Lloyd’s of Avalon is one of the shops that places its hypnotic taffy machine front-and-center in its store window. And though the shop, which first opened in 1934, is a favorite for its selection of taffy and ice cream, it's also popular with the sightseeing crowd—a teenaged Norma Jeane (Baker) Dougherty worked there during her first marriage, a few years before she became Marilyn Monroe.

6. TAFFY TOWN // SALT LAKE CITY

It may not be by the ocean, but Salt Lake City certainly has both salt water and taffy. Taffy Town offers more than 70 flavors of taffy, including some out-of-the-ordinary ones like carrot cake, chicken and waffles, and maple bacon. The company was founded more than a century ago as the Glade Candy Company, but changed its name to Taffy Town “to reflect our total dedication to taffy excellence.”

7. ZENO'S BOARDWALK SWEET SHOP // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

Zeno’s calls its product the World’s Most Famous Taffy and has been selling it on the boardwalk at Daytona Beach since 1948. They say their whipping technique creates a taffy that is light and smooth—and it must be popular, considering they make roughly 400,000 pounds of it a year. Zeno's selection is huge, with more than 100 flavors available (flavor #101 was pineapple upside-down cake).

8. YE OLDE PEPPER CANDY COMPANIE // SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

The Pepper Candy Companie—the oldest candy company in the United States—traces its roots back to 1806 and a Mrs. Spencer who saved her destitute family by making candy. The company’s name comes not from an ingredient, but from a man named George W. Pepper, another candy maker in Salem who bought the business from Mrs. Spencer’s son. Although taffy was not one of the company’s original sweets, they do sell Wicked Awesome Salt Water Taffy. Their New England-oriented flavors include Cape Cod cranberry, maple syrup, and chocolate mousse.

9. DOLLE'S CANDYLAND // REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

Dolle’s was founded in 1926 and moved to its present location on the boardwalk a year later. The company almost lost it all in a hurricane in 1962—the building was destroyed, and one of the only pieces of equipment left was the taffy machine, which dropped through the floor into the sand and had to be pulled out with a crane. It was successfully repaired and is still making taffy today. Dolle’s sells their sweets in a dozen regular flavors and another dozen summer flavors like root beer and piña colada.

10. SHRIVER'S // OCEAN CITY, NEW JERSEY

Shriver’s has been selling salt water taffy at the Jersey Shore since it opened on the boardwalk in Ocean City in 1898. The company sells more than 30 flavors of taffy at its store (which is housed in the oldest building on the boardwalk) and online. During their busy summer season, the store makes more than 2300 pounds (or 100,000 pieces) of taffy each day, with chocolate being far and away their most popular. 

11. MARINI'S // SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA

Marini’s was originally started in 1915 by Victor Marini as a popcorn stand on the boardwalk and soon expanded into salt water taffy and candy apples. Still family-owned and in the hands of its fourth generation of candy makers, Marini's taffy recipe has remained the same since the days Victor was making it. And they still wrap the candies using a cast iron machine bought in the 1920s. That's a lot of history for a bite-sized piece of taffy!

This piece originally ran in 2016.

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