April 07, 2020

Baked Maine potatoes a big hit at annual Big E

PRESQUE ISLE – It took only 17 days to serve 78,820 baked Maine potatoes with all the fixin’s at the Big E in Springfield, Mass., last month. That was the equivalent of two trailer loads of spuds that were gobbled up by folks attending the annual state fair.

Workers moved potatoes to the ovens and then served them up 12 hours a day for 17 days from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1, according to a report to the Maine Potato Board.

They were served by Massachusetts residents with some help from Maine potato officials in 10 serving lines. They were baked using six huge convection ovens, each holding up to 300 Maine spuds. They baked an average of 421 potatoes an hour for each hour the exposition was open.

People attending the annual exposition could get their potatoes with bacon bits, sour cream or chives and butter, adding their own.

“This does a lot for … the image of a Maine potato,” Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said outside the session Wednesday. “Massachusetts and Connecticut have long been major markets for us.

“People stayed in line, even if we had 10 serving lines, 15 minutes or more to get a potato,” he said. “Despite baked potatoes served elsewhere at the Big E, people stood in line at our booth.”

Each potato sold for $4.50, with all the fixings.

Flannery told his board that without final figures on their expenses and profits, this year’s Big E was “very good for us.” He told members that nine days were better than average sales.

The Big E numbers were also good this year with more than 1,116,350 people attending.

The Maine Potato Board has been attending the Big E for some 30 years, according to Flannery. One of the best years ever was in 1999, when just under 84,000 Maine spuds were baked and sold at the exposition.

In the 15 days of this year’s Big E, the Maine Potato Board sold potatoes for $354,690. That’s nearly $21,000 a day. The biggest day was 6,380 potatoes on Sept. 30. The smallest day was 2,850 baked potatoes on Sept. 19.

It’s a big draw for fairgoers, according to Flannery. He said many people who go for the baked Maine potato have some tie to Maine. Some, he said, are former residents living in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Flannery did not know Wednesday what the profits of the 17-day effort will be. He hoped to have that report for next month’s meeting.

Historically, the money made at the Big E by the Maine Potato Board accounts for about one-third of the annual income for the group.

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