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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Potato Chips - Good To The Last "Crum"

I have a feeling that before this entry is out, I will be looking at a particular snack food a lot differently. And, I also have a feeling that when it comes to the story behind the invention of said item, it may open up some discussion about who “really” came up with the idea. From the various amount of sources that I have found, many seem to point to one man in general, and it is enough reason for me to spotlight this tasty treat as part of our special look at “Black History Month”, though some people have tried to dispute that claim.

And, yes, I will be talking more about that as we proceed.

I know that this is the day in which I am supposed to be featuring a toy, a game, or a book in this space. But, I was also thinking to myself that it has been a really long time since I put a food item in the blog as a spotlight. I almost considered making one of the days of the week a food themed day, but I didn't think I would have enough topics to make it last. However, I will say that today's topic was inspired by a Facebook application/contest that I decided to enter on a whim. Heck, the grand prize is cash if your entry is selected, so what do I have to lose right?

Today's entry is all about the snack treat (and sometimes food) known as the potato chip.

Now, I won't link to this contest that inspired the selection of topic for today (mainly because I don't want any competition), but the contest allows you to create your own brand new flavour of potato chip. If you come up with the most creative flavour, they will not only give you money for the idea, but they will also manufacture the flavour and have it be readily available for public consumption.

As far as I know, you can enter as many flavours as you want, so I decided to submit a couple of entries. One was Canadian Pizza, and the other one was Spaghetti and Meatballs. As far as I know, they do not have either one of those flavours in any chip form, so I think that it would be interesting to try and replicate it.

But even if my flavours are not selected as the winning entry, at least I tried. These days, you can find potato chips in almost every flavour underneath the sun. Of course, the most basic flavour is original, but I've seen Barbecue, Sour Cream and Onion, Cheddar, Dill Pickle, Salt and Vinegar, Au Gratin, Roasted Chicken, Guacamole, Jalapeno, Sea Salt and Pepper, and Ketchup.

And, that's not even counting tortilla chips, corn chips, pretzel chips, and Ritz Chips.

These days, I really don't eat that many potato chips. When I was a child, I loved them a little too much. You know that slogan that Lay's had? The one that went “betcha can't eat just one”? That was true with me...only in my case, that slogan was amended to “betcha can't eat just one bag”!

But considering that I am trying my best to avoid junk food, I have limited myself to only eating Baked Lay's Dill Pickle chips. They might not be the most healthiest option out there, but at least they're slightly better than the full fat potato chips.

And, yes, I am totally justifying my stance on Baked Lay's.  

So, this leads to the did the potato chip come to be?

Well, I believe that I have found an answer. It's the one that appeared the most in all of the sources that I have come across...and just to verify it as being mostly true, I logged onto to make sure that it wasn't an urban legend. It seems to be a mostly true encounter, so I'm going with it.

We're going to go back to the summer of 1853 for this tale, which takes place inside of a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The restaurant was located inside the Moon's Lake House, and the head chef at the time was African-American George Crum.

On one particular August day in 1853, it began normally, and it was business as usual...until Crum had an encounter with a rather unhappy customer. The diner had ordered a plate of french fries with his meal, but when Crum served them, the customer was angered at the quality of the fries, stating that they were cut too thick and that they were much too soggy. The customer was insistent that Crum take them back and prepare them differently.

Now, I don't know about you, but one of the last things that I would do is send back a meal if it wasn't cooked properly. Because depending on the attitude of the chef cooking the meal, I would probably be afraid that they would spit on the food, drop it on the floor, or sabotage it in a way that I would be eating something disgusting, and I would never know the difference. Of course I am not suggesting that all chefs would do this...but I've heard of examples where this is the case.

The reason why I bring this up is because George Crum did not take too kindly to the customer sending back his food. And, George decided that he was so angry at the customer that he would send him out a treat that he would never forget.

Since the customer wanted his fries to be cut a lot thinner than what he was given, George obliged in a huge way, cutting them paper thin in thickness. He then over-fried them purposely so that the potato would appear incredibly crispy. No soggy mess that way! To top it all off, George liberally seasoned them with approximately twice as much salt as to what he would normally use, in order to make them especially unappetizing.

Or, so he thought.

When Crum brought out his newest culinary condition to the disgruntled diner, he believed that he had executed the perfect payback against the person who dared insult his cooking. He waited with baited breath expecting the customer to exclaim that his dish was the worst thing ever.

However, to Crum's shock, the minute he tried one, he responded with a smile. He thought that they were the most delicious things that he had ever tasted, and promptly finished the rest of them.

So, Crum decided to take his new creation and profit off of them. After all, if they had the power to turn a constant complainer into a satisfied customer, they just had to be worth trying to make a living off of, right?

Marketing his new creation as “Saratoga Chips” (named after the geographic location where they were made), they quickly became a popular item on the menu, and the resulting profits were enough for Crum to open up his own restaurant in the 1860s.

Saratoga Chips remained popular throughout the Prohibition Era (I suppose substituting the vice of liquor with the vice of junk food is one way to deal with it). Soon after, an entrepreneur by the name of Herman Lay decided to market the product in the Southwest United States, and soon after, the product became well known as a global snack food. Why else do you think that the Frito-Lay company is one of the largest manufacturers of potato chips today?

Of course, as the entry on the potato chip reads, every true story leaves some room for embellishment. And sure enough, there have been several urban legends that have been associated with this factual account, such as the following.

01- Saratoga/Potato Chips were once marketed as being an aphrodisiac. Now, I have no idea how truthful this was because I was not alive during the Prohibition era. However, I cannot recall ever being put in the mood because I happened to come across a bag of Lay's Sour Cream and Onion potato chips. Especially since Sour Cream and Onion potato chips cause you to require half a package of Tic Tacs to get rid of the aftertaste!

02- According to some legends, the cranky customer that cranked Crum's chain all those years ago was a famous face...railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. While it would have been a fascinating angle to an already fascinating account, it is sadly not true. In all likelihood, that cranky customer was just an average Joe. The kind that you might see at the Target customer service desk trying to explain how the item he was trying to return was brand new despite the fact that 8-track tapes have been out of style since the 1970s.

03- There have even been reports that Crum was not the actual founder of potato chips. There are some sources that state that it was actually his sister who created the dish, while others report that the Crum family had no ties to the discovery at all, with the potato chip being reportedly created long before the Saratoga Chip came to be. But, I'm going to give Crum the benefit of the doubt and name him as the sole creator. I found more evidence to support Crum than refute him while researching this blog entry.

So the next time you find yourself eating a potato chip, thank George Crum. Certainly a detail of “Black History Month” that can make your mouth water.

And, since we're talking about chips, how about some more facts about them to close this entry off?

  • Americans reportedly eat more than 1.2 billion potato chips each year!
  • March 14 is known as “National Potato Chip Day”!
  • The first potato chip factory was built by Cleveland's William Tappenden in 1895.
  • It takes nearly a thousand pounds of potatoes to make 350 pounds of chips.
  • While Canada and the United States call potato chips “chips”, in the UK and Australia, they are known as crisps (mainly because those countries refer to french fries as chips).
  • Apparently Canada isn't the only country to have unique flavours of chips. You can apparently buy them in paprika, mint (India), Kebab (Egypt), and mayonnaise (Japan) flavours.
  • Engineering professor William Lee actually holds a patent in potato chip technology!

  • Have you wondered how Pringles were made? They're actually dehydrated mashed potatoes that have been reconstituted into a dough!

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