confectioner’s lozenge. A small cake of sugar, &c., originally pressed in the form of a rhombus, but now usually round or of various shapes. — Webster, 1882
A young man who carried a collection plate in service, before starting took from his pocket a five-cent piece, as he supposed, put it on the plate, and then passed it around among the congregation, which included many young girls. The girls, as they looked at the plate, all seemed astonished and amused, and the young man, taking a glance at the plate, found that instead of a nickel five-cent piece, he had a conversation-lozenge on the plate, with the words, “Will you marry me?” in red letters, staring everybody in the face. – The Marion (Ohio) Star, August 27, 1878.
In the 1860s, Daniel Chase of Massachusetts began printing mottoes on lozenge candy that had been rolled, pressed, and cut into hearts, horseshoes, miniature postcards, or other shapes. His brother, Oliver, was making candy lozenges by hand as early as the 1840s in Boston, mixing gum arabic, peppermint, and brown sugar (clarified with eggs and pulverized using a mortar and pestle), then rolling the kneaded mixture thin before cutting it into round disks. To save production time, Oliver Chase invented a lozenge-cutting machine; you can see one of his patents HERE. Based on the way a clothes wringer worked, it had holes cut in the rollers so that the dough fed into one side was flattened and cut into perfectly round candy disks that fell from the roller as the handle was turned. These were the forerunner of Peerless Wafers, what became the Necco Wafer.
Motto candy began with a confection known as the cockle, a crisp sugar and flour candy shaped into curved scallop shells. A tiny slip of colored paper was rolled up and placed inside; the papers had sayings or mottoes printed on them, usually famous expressions or lines from popular poems. Daniel Chase had the idea to print the mottoes directly onto his candy lozenges instead of bits of paper, developing a machine with a felt pad that applied red vegetable coloring to die-cut letters, which then stamped the candy as part of the same process that rolled and cut it into circles. The machine was patented in 1866. Chase printed poems, tongue twisters, and conundrums on his candy. Popular for weddings, early conversation candies may even have been printed with the saying found in These Happy Golden Years: “Married in black, you’ll wish yourself back.” It’s documented that they were printed with the saying, “Married in white / You have chosen right” and “Married in pink / He will take to drink.”
Chase’s business merged with other Massachusetts candy businesses and in 1901, they became the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO), for over 100 years, the makers of the conversation hearts most Little House readers fondly remember. After filing for bankruptcy, the plant that made both Necco wafers and Sweethearts candy was purchased by Spangler Candy in 2018, but they ceased production of the candies a few months later, posting a three-heart message on their website: MISS U2 / WAIT 4 ME / BACK SOON.
FADS THAT WERE. The Conversation Lozenge. “First Aid To Making Love” is what the conversation lozenge really was, hence its extremely long sway in the candy stores. It is estimated that the conversation lozenge fad has lasted 50 years, and it isn’t so dead yet that the candy factories have stopped making them. A nickel’s worth of conversation lozenges made the most freckled bashful swain the candy kid.
Were you too timid to express your feelings to Luella, there was a subtle, painless way of doing it. You asked her if she liked candy. Sure. You passed her a lozenge inscribed “It’s a Pleasant Day.” She admitted it was, and ate the lozenge. Would she have more candy? Would she? You slipped her one, “You are Fair as a Lily.” She couldn’t deny that, either. As things warmed up you pressed on her in succession, “My Thoughts are of Thee,” “Sweets to the Sweet,” “The Ivy Clings to the Oak,” “Your Face Haunts Me,” “May I Dare?” “I Love Only Thee,” and “Kiss Me.” After that you didn’t need any more conversation lozenges, except to let her draw them from the bag at random. You could afford to laugh when she brought out one labeled “I Love Another.” You knew better at this state of the game. Ask your Pa and Ma about the conversation lozenge. — Evansville (Indiana) Press (November 18, 1907): 3.
In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes that at the store in Pepin, Wisconsin, Mary and Laura were given candy hearts with sayings on them. Laura’s said “Sweets to the Sweet,” but Mary’s had a whole poem on it: “Roses are red / Violets are blue / Sugar is sweet – And so are you.”
You can easily make your own Little House candy hearts using the same ingredients found in the original: powdered sugar, corn syrup, water, and gelatin. They can easily be tinted using flavored jello and/or flavored with vanilla or cinnamon oil.
To make the hearts, first: wash your hands! Then measure 1 teaspoon Knox gelatin, 1/4 cup water, and 1 teaspoon light Karo syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir, microwave on high for about 20 seconds, and stir until well mixed. You can also soften the gelatin in cold water, then dissolve over hot water.
Pour the gelatin mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. You can mix them by hand but it will be much, much harder. Add powdered sugar – a half cup at a time (you’ll need a one pound box, plus a little extra for rolling and cutting) – mixing well after each addition. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl often. The mixture will go from a watery liquid to a dough that is quite stiff.
Once you’ve reached Play-doh consistency, remove the ball of dough to a wooden cutting board dusted lightly with powdered sugar. Knead until smooth and elastic, then roll flat. I used 8 mm diameter knitting needles on either side of the dough in order to roll to a uniform thickness. It’s best to work in small batches, since the dough immediately starts to dry. Cover unworked dough with a moist towel or wrap in plastic wrap, or a thin crust will form while you’re waiting.
Cut the flattened dough into heart shapes using a cookie cutter, and place candies onto a piece of parchment paper to dry for at least 24 hours before stamping; the ink will run if the candies aren’t completely dry. If the tops aren’t perfectly smooth, you can rub them with a finger moistened in water. This recipe will make about forty 2-inch hearts.
I used an inexpensive printing kit from the office supply store to make stamps with the sayings from the Little House book; use food-safe ink for stamping. You can also write directly onto the dry candies with a food-safe marker or write on them using food coloring and a tiny paintbrush. In the past, I’ve used these stamps to made Fimo hearts to use as Christmas decorations; I’ve also stamped shrink plastic to make tiny hearts to dangle from a ribbon bookmark (make sure you punch a hole in the plastic before shrinking). If you’re careful, you can also stamp royal frosting on heart-shaped cookies. And… you can even use the stamps on paper hearts to make your own Valentine’s Day cards.
candy (BW 4, 6, 9; FB 18; LHP 19; BPC 9, 11-12, 21-22, 31, 40-41; SSL 3, 21; TLW 18; LTP 3, 16; THGY 16, 21, 23, 25; PG) – A preparation of sugar made by boiling and crystallizing sugar or syrup several times, to render it hard and transparent, and often flavored with various substances; a conserve, or confection of sugar.
candy hearts (BW 9) – A great book about NECCO and early candy-making is Louis Untermeyer’s A Century of Candymaking: 1847-1947 (Cambridge: New England Confectionery Company, 1947). Much of the information about candy hearts you find online comes from this book.