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Potato Chips

Claim:   Potato chips resulted from a cook's moment of pique.

LEGEND

Origins:   Lore has long had it that an act of spite led to the invention in 1853 of one of the most popular snack foods of all time. According to the oft-repeated tale, Potato chip potato chips were the innovation of George Crum, head chef at Moon's Lake House, a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. On one fateful day, a customer had the temerity to complain that Crum's French fries were "too thick and soggy" and "not salty enough." The angered cook set out to wreak culinary vengeance — he sliced potatoes paper-thin, fried them to a singed crisped brown, salted the living daylights out of them, and dumped them in front of the hard-to-please diner.

The customer tried one, smiled, then helped himself to the rest of them. Thus were born Saratoga Chips, as Crum's unintended invention came to be called.

According to a further bit of lore that has sprung up around this tale, the finicky customer in Saratoga Springs was none other than railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Even among those who cherish the vengeful cook yarn, most dismiss the notion that Vanderbilt was the hard-to-please diner.)

Certain details argue against the vengeful cook legend. First, to the best of anyone's knowledge, George Crum never made the claim that he had invented the potato chip, let alone claimed the tale as his own — those assertions emerged only many years after his death. Crum was, by some reports, the sort of cook that would have punished an overly demanding patron in the manner of the legend. He was also not a modest man. Had one of his fits of pique resulted in a popular dish, it's highly unlikely he'd have been humble about it.

Second, in 1899, while Crum was still alive, his sister claimed in an interview to have been the one who invented potato chips. Says Dirk Burhans of Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip:
The most credible version is that Katie Speck Wicks invented the chip in an accident not dissimilar to the culinary misfire in which the brownie was born (from a mix-up of cake and fudge). "Aunt Katie," who also worked at Moon's Lake House, was frying crullers and peeling potatoes at the same time. A thin slice of potato found its way into the frying oil for the crullers, and Katie fished it out. Noticing the chip, Crum tasted it and said, "Hm hm, that's good. How did you make it?" After Katie described the accident, Crum replied, "That's a good accident. We'll have plenty of these."
In 1917 Wicks' obituary credited her as the inventor of the potato chip.

Saratoga chips remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era, when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product throughout the Southeast. The whispered assertions that potato chips were an aphrodisiac did not diminish his
sales.

Americans reportedly eat an average of six pounds of potato chips per person each year.

Barbara "chip off the old blockhead" Mikkelson

Last updated:   21 April 2013

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Sources:

    Aronson, Stanley.   "Joys and Triumphs of Junk Food."
    The Providence Journal-Bulletin.   27 March 2000   (p. B5).

    Bennett, Lynne.   "Fun Facts About Frites."
    The San Francisco Chronicle.   20 September 2000   (Food; p. 4).

    Botkin, B.A.   Sidewalks of America.
    Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1954   (p. 180).

    Burhans, Dirk.   Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip
    London:Terrace Books, 2008   ISBN 978-0-299-22770-8   (pp. 19-21).

    Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Inventive Genius.
    Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1991.   ISBN 0-8094-7699-1   (p. 49).