This winter has brought more heavy storms and intense cold than in recent years, so maybe it's appropriate that the New England Confectionery Co. chose weather-themed messages for its Sweethearts conversation heart candies.

Mother Nature is being honored with these new sayings:

• Melt My Heart

• In a Fog

• Chill Out

• Cloud Nine

• Heat Wave

• Sun Shine

• Get My Drift

• Wild Life

• Nature Lover

The last new message, "Do Good," doesn't seem to fit the nature theme, unless you're thinking, "Dew Good."

"This Valentine's Day season, we decided to celebrate Mother Nature with our new Sweethearts sayings that highlight the excitement and unpredictability of the day-to-day change of weather and people's love lives," NECCO's marketing manager Lory Zimbalatti was quoted in a company press release.

A message that would have been tailor-made is "Baby, It's Cold Outside" — except maybe that it's too long to fit on one little heart.

NECCO makes about 8 billion candy hearts during the six weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, packaged as Sweethearts, Sweet Talk or Tiny Conversation Hearts. In the early 1990s, the company began an annual tradition of adding 10 new sayings to its 100-message repertoire and retiring those that had become passe.

So you'll still find the perennial "Be Mine" and "Miss You" alongside techno-messages such as "Fax Me," "www.cupid" and "Be My Icon," and in-your-face thoughts such as, "Excuse Me," "Hello," "Whatever" or "Go, Girl." Even love has more attitude these days.

In 2005, the company chose sports-minded thoughts such as, "Be My Hero," "Dream Team" and "All Star." (Perhaps it was an effort lure a hubby or boyfriend out of the La-Z-Boy recliner and away from the remote?) When you consider that one small heart has three calories and is fat- and sodium-free, it's a lot healthier than most game-watching party fare.

The tradition of candy hearts with messages on them is nearly 150 years old. In 1847, Oliver R. Chase of Boston invented and patented the first American candy machine, a lozenge cutter. He founded Chase and Co., forerunner to NECCO. Then in 1866, his brother, Daniel, invented a lozenge-printing machine, so messages could be imprinted on the candies. He called them Motto Hearts.

In 1990, NECCO bought the Stark Candy Co., maker of Sweethearts Conversation Hearts and NECCO's biggest competitor.

In the early 1900s, the candies were shaped like postcards, baseballs or horseshoes, with enough room for sayings such as "Please Send a Lock of Your Hair by Return Mail," or "How Long Shall I Have to Wait? Pray Be Considerate."

Today's half-inch hearts are limited to two words of four letters each. The larger, 3/4-inch hearts allow two words of six letters. But even two words can say a lot.

Since 1981, Spanish-language hearts have been available within large Hispanic communities in the United States.

If you want to say something special to your sweetie, NECCO will do custom orders. But since you have to buy a full production run — 3,500 pounds — most people aren't likely to special-order a batch.

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