Needhams (sometimes called just “potato candy”) are a dark-chocolate-covered coconut-cream candy. The Maine ingredient might surprise you.
By Aimee Tucker
May 12 2015
The dark-chocolate-covered coconut-cream treat known as needhams.Photo Credit : Melissa DiPalma
In a state where the local wild blueberries make their way into award-winning salsa and lobster is an ice-cream flavor, it’s fair to say that Mainers practice an enthusiastic interpretation of the idiom “swallow your pride.” Notwithstanding crustacean-infused dairy products, the most famous example of “local edible infusion” might be the state’s favorite candy, a dark-chocolate-covered coconut-cream treat known as “needhams.” The Maine ingredient? Potato.
Supposedly named after a popular late-19th-century evangelist preacher, needhams (sometimes called just “potato candy”) are a mystery to most Americans but a staple in Maine, where potato production, at one time the highest in the country, is still a way of life in Aroostook County. The mashed spuds add no detectable flavor but are as crucial to making “real” needhams (whether they help cut the sweetness of the sugar, as some claim, or not) as the cube of salt pork is to baked beans—it’s tradition.
Of course, not just any potatoes will do. Sue Hight of Sue’s Needhams, one of the state’s few commercial operations, says they’ve got to be from Maine. Like many, Hight grew up making needhams at Christmas, but in other seasons had a hard time finding them anywhere but the cases at fancy specialty shops—so she began making and selling them herself. Twenty- five years later, orders are still coming in from homesick Mainers all over the country.
“People always tell me they taste like what their grandmother made,” she says, “and that they bring back great memories.” Just goes to prove that what’s little known isn’t always least loved, and that as long as there are potatoes in Maine, there’s going to be a need for needhams.
For the best homemade needhams, be sure to start with warm (not hot) mashed potato for a smooth filling, and don’t be afraid to return the chocolate to the heat for a moment or two if it starts to cool and thicken while you’re still dipping the squares.