40 cooks aim to add chocolate to economy at Moosehead Chamber fete

Posted Feb. 18, 2011, at 11:46 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — Pat Huckins’ home tucked in the forest canopy of the Moosehead Lake region was a paradise Thursday for whoopie pie lovers.

Tennis ball-size mounds of moist cake being cooled on racks filled the air with an earthy fragrance of dark chocolate.

Huckins was making her beloved family recipe to help the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce promote tourism, which, in turn, fills the local economic larder. Her whoopie pies, along with 47 other desserts made by Moosehead cooks, will be sampled at the Chocolate Festival starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, at the Masonic Hall in Greenville. Festival-goers can select 12 samples for $10.

As her cakes were cooling Thursday, Huckins whipped a creamy confectionery filling that will transform the cake mounds into a filled delicacy that may or may not become Maine’s official dessert.

Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, introduced legislation last month to make the whoopie pie the state’s official sweet, but Lancaster County, Pa., residents are crying foul, saying that move is an act of “confectionery larceny.”

The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau in Lancaster County claims the whoopie pie was developed by Amish women in their state and the name was derived from the “whoopie” husbands and children cried when they discovered the sweet delights in their lunchboxes. Because of that history, the bureau has an online petition asking residents to object to any other state claiming the whoopie pie as its own.

That war on sweets doesn’t bother Huckins, who knows the whoopie pies are a favorite of the festival’s patrons.

This is the fourth year Huckins, 56, who works for Community Health and Counseling in Dover-Foxcroft, has made her mother, Evelyn Huckins’, recipe. She doubles the recipe several times to produce 125 whoopie pies.

About 40 Moosehead Lake region cooks will produce 48 varieties of chocolate sweets for the festival, with few duplicates. Huckins, who with her husband, Dave Vaughn, owns and operates Moosetracks Family Cottages on Prong Pond, also will make four of her “totally sinful” chocolate turtle cakes enhanced with caramels and four batches of white chocolate macadamia nut brownies to share.

“I was just going to make brownies but brownies weren’t spiffy enough, so I had to dress it up,” Huckins said of her original recipe. “You don’t want to be in competition with somebody else.”

In the end, Huckins will have invested a weekend and about $100 into the event.

That’s typical of the bakers, according to Susan Hamer, festival chairwoman. Hamer, who will contribute Hello Dollies, which are chocolate toffee bars, and her “very addicting” chocolate chip croissant bread with butterscotch sauce, said everyone has the same goal — to help the local economy. As her thanks to the bakers, Hamer makes and provides the cooks with a lunch. The silent auction typically held during the festival will be held later in the year, she added.

Hamer, who got the idea for the festival from her daughter, who participated in a similar fundraising event in another state, said the first year’s event drew 25 cooks. This year’s event will feature 40 cooks, some of who have no Chamber affiliation.

The festival has surpassed the annual ice fishing derby as the Chamber’s largest fundraising event, Hamer said Friday.

“I think it’s a positive thing for the community because A, the community loves it, and B, the community is very proud of the fact that it’s so successful,” Hamer said.

Last year, 4,000 chocolate items were consumed in 90 minutes. Expecting this year’s event to draw even more people, Hamer said there will be more offerings and some cooks are making as many as 300 pieces of their recipes. “There’s just been incredible support” from the community, she said.

Participants come from throughout the state, and Hamer was notified that a busload of Bangor-area senior citizens plan to attend this year’s festival.

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