Handcrafted Needhams - Maine's Traditional Potato Candy
History of the Maine Needham
From Spud to Spectacular
Mainers like tradition, and Maine Needhams are a tradition with deep roots.
From the confectionary kitchen of Seavey's Sweets in the early 1870's, to grandma's kitchen during the 1900's, to specialty food and gift shops and on-line in the 2000's, Maine's Potato Candy has stood the test of time.
It's our mission to preserve, revitalize, and expand that tradition, and we've dedicated this page to recording Maine Needham facts and events for future generations. We hope you'll enjoy this growing collection.
Fact or Folklore
We don't claim to be historians, but we have done some digging, and, while we can't find any primary source material, there are some reputable publications that all seem to agree on the basic origin story of the Maine Needham.
So, in true Mainer fashion, we'll tell you the story we've been told, the one that's been passed down through the generations.
Back in the late 1800's, John Seavey owned a confectionary, Seavey's Sweets. Some sources say this was located in Portland, some say it was in Auburn. Everyone agrees it was in Maine.
Seavey first introduced Needhams sometime in or around 1872. There is a suggestion that an abundant crop of Maine potatoes existed at the time, and there may have been a contest to see what different recipes could be created using the native tater. At any rate, it seems that one of Seavey's candy makers presented him with a chocolate-covered coconut confection enriched with the silky smoothness of the spud, and Seavey knew he had his next best seller.
Why Seavey decided to call his new candy a Needham is a bit of an enigma, but sources agree the name itself came from a popular itinerant preacher of the time, George C. Needham. His story is quite sorted and worth perusing if you're the curious type, but it's got nothing to do with our story, so we'll conclude our mention here.
We haven't been able to tell when Mainers started making Needhams at home, but it's been suggested that during the Great Depression, folks would use their left-over potatoes from dinner to make the sweet treat. We have several photos in our gallery below of a Maine Potato recipe booklet from the early 1950's with a recipe for Potato Candy.
Seavey's Sweets continued making and selling Needhams from their shop in Auburn but sold the company in the early 1960's to Lou-Rod Candy of Lewiston. Lou-Rod's carried on the Needham tradition and sold Seavey's Needhams until they closed sometime around 2013, although, their ingredients list did not include potatoes. When did that happen??
We've got photos of some old but familiar Seavey's packaging that will delight those from previous generations who still remember taking a shiny nickel down to the corner store to pick up a Needham on a Saturday afternoon.
There seems to be a lag in the Needham tradition in more recent years. Not that Needhams weren't around, there were and are still plenty of candy shops that make them, but the story and the sweet memories of the Maine treat seem to be lost on the younger generation. If you ask most Mainers born in the last quarter century what a Needham is, they'll tell you they have no idea. That's a trend we want to change. Sure, we like selling our Needhams, but more than that, we cherish the rich, chocolate covered tradition of the Maine Needham, and we want to help others discover, or rediscover, the treasure and share it with future generations.
We'll keep looking for more pieces of Needham history and keep creating new memories as well. If you've got something to share, we'd love to hear from you. Who knows, your little piece of the story may even end up here on the Maine Needham History page!