The curious history of chips | Arts & Culture

The origins of the crunchy snack date back to at least the 1800s.
Lisa Shin

When the Covid-19 forced stay-at-home folks, many of us have found comfort in a snack: potato chips. The crispy treats saw a sales increase of around $350 million from 2019 to 2020. When the tokens go down, it seems, Americans gobble them up.

Any search for the origins of this signature appetizer must lead to George Crum (born George Speck), a 19th-century chef of Native American and African American descent who made his name in Moon Lake House in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. According to the story, one day in 1853, railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt was eating at Moon’s when he ordered his fried potatoes to be sent back to the kitchen because they were too thick. Furious at such a picky eater, Crum cut potatoes as thinly as possible, fried them, and sent them to Vanderbilt as a prank. Rather than taking the gesture as an insult, Vanderbilt was overjoyed.

Other customers started asking for Crum’s”Saratoga Chipswhich quickly became a hit far beyond upstate New York. In 1860, Crum opened his own restaurant near Saratoga, known as Crum’s House or Crum’s Place, where a basket of potato chips was inviting on every table. Crum oversaw the restaurant until his retirement over 30 years later; in 1889, a New York Herald the writer called him “the finest cook in America”. Crum died in 1914, but today’s amazing variety of potato chips, from Cinnamon Sugar Pringles at Lay’s Flaming Dill Pickleare a tribute to the man American heritage magazine called “the Edison of fat”.

a man seated for a portrait

George Crum, whose exasperation with Cornelius Vanderbilt is said to have helped spark the American potato chip craze.

Brookside Museum Collection, Saratoga County Historical Society

Americans consume about 1.85 billion pounds of potato chips per year, or about 6.6 pounds per person.

Still, the historians who have peeled this story hastened to point out that Crum was not the only inventor of the chip, nor even the first. The first known recipe for crisps dates back to 1817, when an English doctor named William Kitchiner published The cook’s oracle, a cookbook that included a recipe for “french potatoes in slices or chips”. And in July 1849, four years before Crum supposedly dissipated Vanderbilt, a New York Herald reporter noted the work of “Eliza”, also, oddly, a cook in Saratoga Springs, whose “reputation for frying potatoes” had become “one of the main points of notice in Saratoga”. Yet researchers are united in acknowledging that Crum popularized the chip. It was in Saratoga that fleas came into their own – today you can purchase a version of Crum’s Creations as Saratoga Chips– and in America that they have become a culinary and commercial juggernaut.

For a long time, fries remained a delicacy reserved for restaurants. But in 1895, an Ohio entrepreneur named William Tappenden found a way to stock them on grocery store shelves, using his kitchen and, later, a barn-turned-factory in his backyard to make the chips and delivering them in barrels to local markets via horses. car. Countless other merchants have followed suit.

It would take another bold innovator to spark the revolution, the result of which would be that no birthday party, football game or trip to the vending machine would be the same. In 1926, Laura Scudder, a Californian businesswoman, began packaging potato chips in waxed paper bags that included not only a “freshness” date, but also a tempting boast – “the loudest potato chips in the world. “, a particularly American marketing breakthrough that has made a virtue of being obnoxious. The snack took another leap the following year, when Leonard Japp, a Chicago chef and former boxer, began mass-producing the snack – rumored largely to serve a customer: Al Capone, who discovered a love for potato chips. during a visit to Saratoga and thought they would sell well in his speakeasy. Japp opened factories to supply the snack to a growing list of customers, and by the mid-1930s was selling to customers throughout the Midwest as potato chips continued their rise in the pantheon of American candy; later Japp also created what can be considered the modern iteration by frying his potatoes in oil instead of lard.

When Lay’s became the first national potato chip brand in 1961, the company enlisted Bert Lahr, famous for playing the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Ozas the first famous spokesperson, who purrs the diabolical challenge“Betcha can’t eat just one.”

Americans today consume about 1.85 billion pounds of potato chips a year, or about 6.6 pounds per person. The US market for potato chips – just potato chips, not to mention tortilla chips or cheese puffs or pretzels – is estimated at $10.5 billion. And while potato chips and other starches have long been criticized for their role in health issues such as obesity and hypertension, the snack industry has somewhat clarified its act by concocting lower-fat options. and sodium, from sweet potato chips with sea salt to taro chips to red lentil chips with tomato and basil.

Yet for many Americans, the purpose of tokens has always been pure indulgence. After a year of fast-food buzz, Hershey launched the most sophisticated snack mix since the yogurt-covered pretzel last October: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups stuffed with potato chips. Only history can judge the success of this three-flavor calorie bomb. But more than a century and a half after Crum’s moody inspiration, crisps are not only one of our most popular foods, but also one of our most versatile.

Other Black Innovators Who Helped Americans Work Magic In The Kitchen And Beyond

By Chris Klimek

Alfred Cralle • Ice cream scoop


(US Patent Office)

Working at a hotel in Pittsburgh, Cralle saw that serving ice cream with spoons was a tricky job. In 1897, he patented a tool that bears his name well: the mold and the ice cream dish.

Norbert Rillieux • Sugar Refining


(Wiki Commons; Institute of Chemical Engineers)

Granulating sugarcane on an industrial scale was difficult and dangerous. Then Rillieux – born in New Orleans, educated in Paris – in 1846 patented a new method that was much more effective and which saved the workers from being burned by the boiling juice. Still used to make sugar and glue, Rillieux’s system helped the United States dominate the sugar trade in the 19th century.

Joseph Lee • Breadmaker


(NIHF; US Patent Office)

Building on his 1894 invention of a commercial bread kneading machine, which eliminated wasted flour at his Woodland Park Hotel, the Boston-area inventor patented the contraption in 1902. He could mix ingredients and knead dough automatically, a direct precursor to today’s bread machines. .

Frederick McKinley Jones • Refrigeration Unit


(Minnesota Historical Society)

His mobile refrigerator, designed for trucks and trains (1942), made the supermarket possible. It also saved lives during World War II, powering air conditioners in Allied field hospitals to prevent blood bags and other supplies from stale.

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