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Give your Valentine's Day gift a local touch

Susan McLellan Plaisted, proprietress of Heart to Hearth Cookery, will demonstrate traditional methods of roasting and grinding cacao nibs during special events planned Feb. 9 at Historic Deerfield's American Heritage Chocolate Celebration. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Lori Szepelak


As Valentine's Day quickly approaches, thoughts turn to cards, gifts and almost certainly chocolate of all shapes and sizes for our loved ones.

While flowers and gifts are all hallmarks of Valentine's Day, fine handmade chocolates are always at the top of one's list when giving or receiving. As the holiday approaches, local candy shops are gearing up with thoughtful and creative confectionary delights to please every palate.

In Chicopee, Rita O'Dell of Sweet Creations off Granby Road has been busy planning her extensive array of handmade chocolate offerings that will range from chocolate roses and heart-shaped pops to heart-shaped boxes brimming with cherry cordials and valentine mugs chockfull of chocolates. During an interview with Reminder Publications, O'Dell also noted that her sweet shop will have a variety of gift baskets filled with chocolates that will be decorated for the holiday.

"And last but not least, I will have chocolates you can pick and choose to make your own special gift assortment," she said, noting that her glass cases range from peanut butter cups, cherry cordials, truffles and chocolate-covered fudge to pretzels and cream-filled centers.

"All of our products are made from scratch and handmade," said O'Dell. "We continue to focus on good service and strive to keep the neighborhood bakery and chocolate shop feeling that our customers have grown to love."

O'Dell's chocolates are available in milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate.

"There are many items to choose from to help make your holiday sweet and special," she added.

Erika Noble and her staff at Chocolate Works on Harkness Avenue in East Longmeadow are also hard at work ensuring the chocolate shop will have ample choices for patrons to savor. From two-ounce to five-pound hearts, chocolate-covered strawberries, candy bars in all shapes and sizes, and chocolate plaques that say "I love you," Chocolate Works too pulls out all the stops for Valentine's Day. Gift baskets are always available and are overflowing with a variety of chocolates that can range from milk, white and dark confections.

"We also have chocolate novelty items that can range from a deck of cards and hand cuffs to sexy lingerie and tuxedo hearts," said Noble during an interview. "We also have gifts that children can give to grandparents and vice versa."

Noble added that her chocolates are made using the "finest ingredients" and all are time-tested recipes.

Several venues across the region are also celebrating the holiday of romance and include Springfield historian Frances Gagnon presenting an informative lecture titled "Sugar & Spice: Victorian Valentines" on Feb. 14 at 12:15 p.m. at the Springfield Museums as part of its Museums a la Carte series.

In addition to her lecture, Gagnon will answer some of the most-asked questions about the holiday. The audience is welcome to bring a lunch to enjoy during the program. Cookies and beverages will be provided. The cost is $4 for nonmembers and $2 for museum members. For more details, visit

Historic Deerfield in Deerfield will also host its popular American Heritage Chocolate Celebration on Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., sponsored by Mars, Incorporated. The event will focus on American Heritage Chocolate , a re-creation of colonial American chocolate produced by the Historic Division of Mars, Inc. Try samples of American Heritage Chocolate Sticks and Chocolate Spice Drink treats that are exclusively available at seven historical sites in North America, including the Historic Deerfield Museum Store. In keeping with the spirit of the event, Deerfield Inn will offer a wide range of la carte chocolate delicacies, with food and drinks being served between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Additional family friendly food choices will be served in the Terrace Caf . All food and drink will be sold separately from admission. Throughout the day, there will be a wide range of activities including Valentine-themed arts and crafts, wagon rides, demonstrations, lectures, and tours of museum houses. For more information, visit

The history of Valentine's Day and its patron saint continues to be shrouded in mystery. There are many opinions as to who was the original Valentine, with the most popular theory that it was a clergyman who was executed for secretly marrying couples in ancient Rome. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. What we do know is that in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside Feb. 14 to honor St. Valentine. Through the centuries, the Christian holiday became a time to exchange love messages and St. Valentine became a patron saint of lovers.

For a range of ideas on how to make this Valentine's Day extra special for you and your loved ones, visit and search for "Valentine's Day."