I came across my first Needham in a wood-walled cafe/grocery in Maine. I was browsing the candy aisle when I stumbled upon, “The Needham: Maine Potato Candy.” They were in a glass jar with a handwritten label, a little homey looking, chocolate exterior and a mysterious filling….they couldn’t really have potato in them? Could they?
I bought two and asked the sweet old bird behind the counter what I was getting myself into.
“Oh yeah, Needhams, everyone makes them. Your grandmother at Christmas, your mom when you get home from school. They are given in tins as gifts. Everyone in Maine knows Needhams.”
As she fiddled with the label attempting to scan it, she squished the candy a little.
“Oh yeah, they melt real fast. Eat this right away, just when you get home.”
Needham in hand, I raced home to figure out exactly what a Needham was, where the heck did it come from and how on earth do I make one?
Here are my findings:
It’s backstory is…a little fuzzy. One of the first recorded references to the Needham comes from “As Maine as Lobster” an article by John Gould, published in 1986.
In it he writes: “Mr. Seavey was the candymaker, and he was already well-known throughout the state for his numerous confections. It happened that one of the candy cooks in his kitchen brought forth a chocolate-covered coconut cream and passed it about to see what Mr. Seavey, and others, thought of it. It is important to know that this new kind of candy was square in shape.”
But what about the unusual name? Why not Seaveys? Or Maineys? Or Coconuttys?
I read on.
It turns out, most people agree that the candy is named for Reverend George C. Needham, a popular Irish evangelist who came to Boston in 1868. His story is almost as tasty as the treat. Rumor has it he was nearly eaten by cannibals in South America and (after escaping) preached unconventional ideas like – faith can make you beautiful.
As the story goes, at the time the candy was invented the name “Needham” was on every tongue and so should the sweet be – or at least that is what Mr. Seavey thought.
Mr. Gould claims, “There was a challenge as to what this new candy should be called. Mr. Seavey himself is credited with coming up with the right answer — let’s call ’em needhams, after the popular preacher!”
So the Needham is invented and named but how does it taste?
It’s like the best Mounds bar you’ve ever had. It’s rich and creamy, definitely no trace of potato in the flavor. The potato only serves to create the smooth texture of the filling which is contrasted with the delicate snap of the chocolate exterior. It is no wonder it is so “sacred and peculiar” to Mainahs.
Finally, as promised, how is this little bite of history made?
Here’s my recipe:
Place the confectioner’s sugar, butter, and mashed potatoes (yes, mashed potatoes) in a heatproof bowl over a sauce pan with an inch of simmering water.
Stir until the butter melts and the mixture is one smooth consistency, this will take about 5 minutes. Add vanilla.
Stir in the coconut.
Place in a small glass dish lined with parchment. Transfer to the fridge to chill until firm.
To make the toasted coconut, spread the coconut in a single layer in a pie dish. Place in a 400°F oven. Cook for about 10 minutes, tossing frequently, until browned.
To make the chocolate glaze, melt chocolate and coconut oil over a double boiler.
Coat the cut needhams in chocolate, tapping off the excess before transferring to a cookie tray lined with parchment.
Sprinkle with coconut before the chocolate sets. I added the toasted coconut to mine for a little extra jazz. I don’t know that Mr. Seavey or Rev. Needham would agree with the addition but I think you will.
Transfer to the fridge and chill for 20 minutes until the chocolate sets.
Eat them, give them, love them, NEEDHAM!
2 cups of confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup of unseasoned mashed potatoes
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of flaked coconut
2 cups of dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil
1/2 cup of coconut, toasted (optional)
Place the confectioner’s sugar in a heatproof bowl. Create a well in the center and add the butter and mashed potatoes in the well.
Place the bowl over a pot with an inch or two of simmering water.
Stir the butter and mashed potatoes until melted and gradually stir in the confectioner’s sugar.
Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth. This will take about 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla.
Stir in the coconut.
Transfer to a small glass dish that has been lined with parchment paper.
Place in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.
While the coconut filling sets, make the toasted coconut and chocolate glaze.
To toast the coconut, place the coconut in a pie plate or cookie tray in one even layer. Place in a 400°F oven and bake for 10 minutes, tossing frequently. Once the coconut has browned, remove it from oven and let cool.
To make the chocolate glaze, put chocolate chips and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a saucepan with an inch or two of simmering water. Heat while stirring until smooth.
When the coconut mixture has set, cut it into 12 squares.
Use a fork to dip squares into melted chocolate. Tap off excess chocolate before placing needhams on a parchment-lined cookie tray and sprinkling with toasted coconut.
Return to the fridge to chill for another 20 minutes until the chocolate is set.
*Note: These candies melt really easily. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. They’ll keep for a week.
New England Historical Society: http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/needhams-the-potato-candy-sacred-and-peculiar-to-maine/
John Gould’s Article, Reprinted: https://www.csmonitor.com/1986/1024/uham.html