Needhams: Maine's Beloved Chocolate Potato Candy

Peppermint, honeycomb, fudge — we're used to chocolate being stuffed with all kinds of toothsome fillings. But is there a case to be made for potatoes? 

According to Atlas Obscura, residents of Maine would say, "yes" because it's the state that invented needhams, which are chocolate-covered candies filled with coconut, butter, sugar, vanilla, and mashed potatoes. And while these treats are a favorite homemade nibble straight from grandma's kitchen, they're also manufactured by various local confectioners. In fact, needhams are so popular that it's common for Down Easters to find them stuffed in their Christmas stockings, or for moms to be given them on Mother's Day. You'll also find these culinary curios in local gift shops to be tucked into your suitcase for sampling back home (via New England Historical Society). 

These coconut creams are so darned tasty they've been going strong since the 19th century. And fans of this eccentric bon-bon claim that you can't really taste the potato anyway. Some say it's only there as a binding agent, others for texture; others claim it tones down the sweetness. And there's a historical context to this oddball recipe — because while we now think of Idaho as America's potato haven, once upon a time, it was Maine (via U.S. News). So it kind of makes sense that this once-abundant Maine staple crop would show up in candy. But when did needhams first appear in the first place? And what's with the name?

Were needhams named after a preacher?

According to the New England Historical Society, needhams probably originated around 1872. It's said that one day, a confectioner named John Seavey was passed a plate of square dark chocolate candies by one of his cooks. After the secret ingredient of mashed potatoes was revealed, Seavey suggested naming them after a famous preacher of the time, George C. Needham. According to Atlas Obscura, Needham was an Irish-American evangelist who held tent revivals across the East Coast. Yet it's not at all clear why Seavey decided to associate a plate of specialty delicacies after this particular preacher. "New England Desserts" author Tammy Donroe Inman suggests the simpler theory that it's because of the wordplay around "need 'em" (via Maine). 

And do we need chocolate-covered potato squares in our lives? If they're as tasty as New Englanders say they are, then yes, we need 'em to leave Maine and make their way to our fridges pronto.