Needhams, the quintessential Maine candy. As popular as lobster, blueberries, whoopie pies and puffins. And yes, they are made with mashed potatoes!
The history of Needhams is somewhat fuzzy, but the most common story is that they originated in Portland , Maine around 1872. The Reverend George C. Needham was in town conducting tent meetings during America’s Third Great Awakening. At this time candy maker Seavey introduced a new confection – a chocolate covered coconut cream with the secret ingredient of potatoed, another Maine staple. Asked to name this new candy, either the owner or one of the candy makers said “Call them Needhams” in honor of the popular preacher.
Intrigued by this story And Candy Too! did some research on this candy’s namesake. We found an obituary in the New York Times, Philadelphia edition, dated February 2, 1902:
The Reverend George Carter Needham, well-known evangelist and writer, died suddenly of of neuralgia of the heart today at his home in Narbeth, a suberb (sic) of this city. He had just returned from an evangelistic tour of several weeks through Tennessee, and expected shortly to go to Chicago to preach. Mr. Needham was born in the south of Ireland fifty-six yeara ago. At ten years of age he was sent to sea on board an English ship bound for South America. The little fellow was cruelly tortured by the brutal Captain and crew. They beat him, tied him to the mast, and finally tatooed (sic) his arms and body. At the completion of the voyage to South America he was taken ashore in a desolate section of Patagonia, where he was left to face starvation. He was found by a band of cannibal Indians, who considered him a delicate morsel, and prepared to make a feast of him, but he was saved at the last moment by the supersition of the Indians, who discovered the strange tatoo (sic) marks on his body. He returned to civilization and entered business, but gave up a promising career at twenty years of age to become an evangelist. He preached throughout England and Ireland until 1868 when he came to Boston…
We weren’t sure this is the same George C. Needham, but then found the story verified by the New England HIstoircal Society.