For the past two weeks, the kindly spirit of Marjorie Standish has been wafting over eastern Maine handing out recipes for Needhams.
Marjorie’s recipe is about as famous and popular as those Jordan Marsh Blueberry muffins are. Even people who have never made or eaten one know that “they are those candies made with potatoes.”
Maine potatoes, we trust. Betty Jean Maybury in Brewer sent her recipe and commented, “Bet you will get a lot of recipes.” I heard back from 15 of you, and as always heard some good memories along the way.
Barbara Elward of Mattawamkeag said she “always makes Needhams for Christmas,” (“and Valentines Day, etc.”) Ruth Thurston in Machias said: “I used to make these every Christmas until the children grew up and I grew out.” Dorothy Quimby used Marjorie Standish’s recipe at Christmas “for years” and found it foolproof and delicious.
Lois Farr in Dover-Foxcroft wrote: “This recipe belonged to my sister’s father-in-law; he made them every Christmas. I make them myself at the holidays.” Linda Senter of Clifton said, “Happy holiday feasting,” so I bet Needhams are a holiday treat at her house.
Ruth Watson in Mount Desert, and Alice Knight of Rockland, who taught home economics at Rockland District School in the 1970s and ’80s, both used Standish’s recipe, too. Geraldine Pelletier of Hampden wrote that she is 83 years old, “so you can see this is an old recipe.”
The recipe was old by the time Mrs. Standish incorporated it into her cookbook. I have a 1930 American Legion Auxiliary Cookbook from Thomaston that has a recipe for Potato Candy Needhams in it. In another, printed 1926, from First Universalist Church of Machias, there’s an identical recipe for something called Uncooked Fudge but they are Needhams all right. Mrs. Standish seems to have standardized the recipe, and she introduced the paraffin for the coating.
Lenora Reynolds in Bangor wrote to suggest I contact the University of Maine Extension Service for a recipe. This is a very good idea for anyone who wants to know how to do something, or who has a question about such things as canning, pickling and all that. Of course, in this column, I like to hear about the tried and true from all of you! As it happens, Connie Clements who works for the Extension Service, sent along a recipe for Needhams, too, and pointed out that there is one in the new Rebekahs cookbook.
Millie Whiles in Machias advises that she does not use leftover mashed potatoes because they are likely to have seasonings in them. She also leaves the baking sheet full of candy in the fridge overnight to harden.
Louann Littlefield, my neighbor, sent her grandmother’s version, and she said, “Grammie Leach used toothpicks to dip, but I love those Wilton dipping tools.” (Wilton is a cake decorating and confectionery company.)
Jo Andrews in Brooksville had this great idea: Sprinkle the tops of the candies with red and green sprinkles before the chocolate hardens up. Jo’s recipe, by the way was made with condensed milk, not potatoes, the only one of its sort.
I have to own up to being taken aback by seeing paraffin used to help harden the chocolate. Now, I know that paraffin is edible, but I couldn’t help thinking, hmmm, is there a way to do this without it? Sherry Ryan, whose recipe came from her great-grandmother, omitted the paraffin. It also called for the ingredients in cups. Sherry doubles the chocolate and spreads a very thin layer in the bottom of the baking pan before adding the potato and sugar mixture, then tops them with more melted chocolate before cutting them into squares. She prefers bittersweet chocolate but her family has used semisweet chocolate for 40 years.
I used Sherry’s method, but you don’t get chocolate on all sides of your Needhams that way. I tried dipping them but made a big mess. Mrs. Standish’s ghost was in the kitchen laughing at me.
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3/4 cup mashed potato (unseasoned)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter or margarine
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar
1/2 pound flaked coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
Add salt to the mashed potatoes, and melt the butter in a double boiler over boiling water. Add the potatoes, sugar, coconut and vanilla. Mix well and spread in a buttered jelly roll pan (about half an inch thick.) Cool thoroughly until hard and then cut into small squares.
12 ounces of chocolate chips
4 one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cake paraffin (2 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches)
In the top of the double boiler, melt the paraffin, then add the two chocolates. Stir well. Dip the squares in the chocolate, allowing them to finish dripping before placing on waxed paper to harden.