GEORGETOWN, Maine - "What's a Needham?"
That's a question Patty Mains gets countless times a week at her trailer-sized candy shop and bakery in this woodsy coastal town.
For the record: Needhams are chocolate candies - Mains dips hers in dark Belgian Callebaut - filled with coconut, confectioner's sugar, butter, vanilla, and mashed potatoes. You read that correctly. A key element is potato - a fitting secret ingredient in a state famous for its spuds.
Also called "potato candy," Needhams are a vanishing treat, but they're still beloved for many native Mainers. The vegetable tempers the sweetness, and the butter and coconut add richness.
"The mashed potato makes it much more moist and not so sticky-sweet," says Mains.
Mains got her Needham recipe from her grandfather, and the chubby little chocolates have become a signature item. She launched the business two summers ago after retiring from Bath Iron Works, where she had worked for 32 years.
For much of her life, Mains was known as "the little candy girl," the relative and co-worker who brought sweets to family gatherings and office events.
Before opening MainSweets, she took a chocolate-making course at the Callebaut "chocolate academy" in Quebec. There, she learned the art of tempering chocolate and other skills.
She operates MainSweets in a small store built in front of her house by one of her sons. In the shop's early days, Mains spent a lot of time dashing back and forth to her nearby home kitchen, where she prepared the sweets she sold.
"I finally said, 'This is crazy - I can't live another summer like this,' " Mains recalls.
So her son put an addition on the store, and it now houses a full kitchen. It's there that Mains makes candies, pastries, cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, even white and whole-wheat loaves.
Her dozen or so candies include peanut brittle, toffee, turtles, chocolate lobsters, and "tiger butter," a fudge-like swirl of Callebaut, white chocolate, and peanut butter.
Mains also sells Wicked Joe coffee from Brunswick, Round Top ice cream from Damariscotta, and jellies and jams from Stonewall Kitchen in York.
Despite its remote location, MainSweets has been doing brisk business. And it delights Mains when customers' eyes light up at what she calls her "old-fashioned stuff," like lemon squares, brownies, and whoopie pies.
"People come in and say, 'Oh, my God, it's a date bar!' " Mains says, "and it pleases me so much that they're getting excited."