Gerard and Malaika Picard of Saco purchased the Maine Needham Company from a friend a couple of years ago and have developed some new new flavors, while treasuring the original. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO —Sugar, coconut, mashed potato, vanilla and chocolate. Maple syrup — no problem. How about blueberry, or espresso — or peppermint stick?

Welcome to the Maine Needham Company, where Gerard and Malaika Picard turn out the traditional Maine candy in a state certified  commercial kitchen in the basement of their rural Saco home.

How many needhams? Well, let’s say they buy sugar by the 50-pound bag.

It all started a couple of years ago, as Gerard, a home builder, was experimenting with getting a cake baking business off and running. Thirty years ago, when the couple married, Malaika explained, they were broke and couldn’t afford a wedding cake. Gerard, who hails from a large family, and used to pitching in with many tasks, turned his hand to baking and made their four-tier cake. Then, there were more cakes — wedding presents for friends and family members tying the knot.

The fledgling home cake business came much later — their two children are grown and have kids of their own — but was soon to be eclipsed by needhams.

A friend in Norway, Linda Lenberg, had started the Maine Needham Company 12 years before, as a sideline that grew. When she got ready to sell, she approached her friends, the Picards, and informed them they were going to buy her needham business. And so they did, in April 2019.

Now, Gerard makes needhams — putting together the filling, letting it cure for several hours, scoring and cutting vast sheets of it and then using a vintage chocolate enrobing machine they call Gerty to coat the filling in a dark gourmet chocolate blend. It is cooled and then wrapped by another machine and ready for market.

For the hesitant, a taste-test reveals the potato cannot be detected.

Gerard is still building houses about 30 hours a week, while Malaika works full time as an administrative assistant and is the marketing and public relations person for the candy firm. They hope to reach the point where Gerard becomes a fulltime chocolatier.

Among the four new flavors produced by the Maine Needham Company of Saco is maple, made with syrup from Hilltop Boilers in Newfield. Traditionalists however, need not worry – the original needham flavor is very much in production and remains a hit. Tammy Wells Photo

The Maine needham is said to have originated with the Seavey family of Auburn, who began making the sweet treats in 1872. The Seavey company produced needhams until sometime in the mid-20th century, as the story goes, and then Lou-Rod Candy of Lewiston, did, but that company appears to have closed up sometime in the 2000s, according to the Sun Journal newspaper.

The Picards are expanding the Maine Needham Company’s wholesale presence, and expanding Maine’s traditional candy treat to include several specialty flavors — while retaining the much-loved original.

The couple wasn’t long into the needham business when they connected with Hilltop Boilers, which makes maple syrup in Newfield.

They talked, and they experimented.

“I’d make a batch of maple needhams, and give them to Hilltop to try and critique,” said Gerard. After a couple of weeks, they found just the right combination, and the maple needham was born.

Then, they were at a farm store in Gorham when the owner asked if Maine Needham Company did anything with blueberries — and so the blueberry needham was created.

“Chopped blueberry needhams on vanilla ice cream is the best,” said Malaika, adding they hope to work with an ice cream company to advance a needham treat.

There’s more.

“We dreamed of espresso from the very beginning,” said Malaika. In January, the special needham, made with finely ground coffee beans, made its first appearance.

For Christmas 2020, the Picards created peppermint stick needhams — with peppermint flavoring in the filling and crushed candy canes on top.

“Our customers loved them so much we’ll do Christmas in July online and make them available,” said Malaika.

And needhams in general?

“People like them,” she said.

In the immediate area, Maine Needham Company sweets may be purchased at the Way-Way Store and Saco Scoop. They’re available at Reny’s stores throughout Maine and in retail shops in communities from Greenville to Kennebunk in both interior and coastal Maine, and at locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. As well, you can get your needham supply online at www.maineneedhams.com and through Box of Maine, the Old Town-based company that offers boxes of Maine goodies online.

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