The curious history of French fries |  Art and culture

The curious history of French fries | Art and culture

a selection of fries

The origins of the crispy sandwich go back at least to the 19th century.
Lisa shin

When Covid-19 forced stay-at-home folks, many of us found comfort in a snack – potato chips. The crunchy treats enjoyed about a $ 350 million increase in sales from 2019 to 2020. When things are down, Americans seem to be devouring them.

Any search for the origins of this signature appetizer should lead to George Crum (born George Speck), a 19th-century chef of Native and African American descent who made a name for himself at Moon’s Lake House in the resort town of Saratoga Springs, New York. . As the story goes, one day in 1853, the railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt was eating at Moon’s when he ordered his fries returned to the kitchen because they were too thick. Furious at such a picky eater, Crum sliced ​​some potatoes as thin as he could, fried them until crisp, and sent them to Vanderbilt as a joke. Rather than take the gesture as an insult, Vanderbilt was overjoyed.

Other customers began ordering Crum’s “Saratoga Chips,” which soon 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 there was a basket of French fries on each table. Crum supervised the restaurant until he retired more than 30 years later; in 1889, a New York Herald The writer called him “America’s best cook.” Crum died in 1914, but today’s astonishing array of fries, from pringles with cinnamon and sugar to flamin ‘hot dill pickles, are a tribute to the man. American heritage magazine called “The Edison of Fat”.

a man sitting for a portrait

George Crum, whose exasperation with Cornelius Vanderbilt allegedly helped spark the American potato chip craze.

Brookside Museum Collection, Saratoga County Historical Society

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

Still, historians who have shed their skin on this story have been quick to point out that Crum was not the only inventor of the chip, not even the first. The oldest known recipe for French fries dates back to 1817, when an English physician named William Kitchiner published Cook’s Oracle, a cookbook that featured a recipe for “sliced ​​or chip fries.” And in July 1849, four years before Crum allegedly criticized Vanderbilt, a New York Herald The reporter highlighted the work of “Eliza,” also, curiously, a cook in Saratoga Springs, whose “potato fry reputation” had become “one of the most prominent issues in Saratoga.” However, scholars are united in acknowledging that Crum popularized the chip. It was in Saratoga where the French fries gained traction (today you can buy a version of Crum’s creations under the name Saratoga Chips) and in the United States they became a culinary and commercial monster.

For a long time, French fries remained an exclusive delicacy in restaurants. But in 1895, an Ohio businessman named William Tappenden found a way to keep them stocked on store shelves, using his kitchen and later a factory-converted barn in his backyard to make the fries and deliver them in kegs. to local markets via horses. wagon. Countless other merchants followed suit.

It would take another bold innovator to start the revolution, the outcome of which would never be the same at a birthday party, a football game, or a trip to the office vending machine. In 1926, Laura Scudder, a California businesswoman, began packing chips in waxed paper bags that featured not only a “freshness” date but also a tantalizing boast: “the loudest chips in the world,” a preview of Peculiarly American marketing that made a virtue of being obnoxious. The snack took another leap the following year, when Leonard Japp, a Chicago chef and former professional boxer, began mass-producing it, largely, according to rumor, to serve a customer: Al Capone, who allegedly discovered love. for the fries. on a visit to Saratoga and I thought they would sell well for their speaking facilities. Japp opened factories to supply the sandwich to an ever-growing list of customers, and by the mid-1930s it was being sold to customers throughout the Midwest as French fries continued their rise into the pantheon of American delicacies; Later, Japp also created what can be considered the modern iteration by frying his potatoes in oil instead of lard.

When Lay became the first national potato chip brand in 1961, the company recruited Bert Lahr, famous for playing the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, as its first famous spokesperson, who purred the devilish challenge, “I bet you 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 market for French fries in the US, French fries only, regardless of tortilla chips or cheese balls or pretzels, is estimated at $ 10.5 billion. And while potato chips and other starchy indulgences have long been criticized for playing a role in health conditions like obesity and hypertension, the snack industry has cleaned up its act to some degree, cooking up options with less fat. and sodium, from sea salt fries to taro chips to tomato basil red lentil fries.

Yet for many Americans, the goal of French fries has always been sheer pleasure. After a year of enthusiasm for fast food, this past October, Hershey launched the most sophisticated snack mashup since the yogurt-covered pretzel: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Stuffed with French Fries. Only history can judge whether this triple flavored calorie bomb will succeed. But more than a century and a half after Crum’s cranky inspiration, the potato chip is not just one of our most popular foods, but also our most versatile.

Other Black Innovators Who Helped Americans Work Magic in the Kitchen and Beyond

By Chris Klimek

Alfred Cralle • Scoop of ice cream


(US Patent Office)

Working in a Pittsburgh hotel, Cralle found serving ice cream with scoops to be a difficult task. In 1897, he patented a tool with a great name: the Ice Cream Saucer and Mold.

Norbert Rillieux • Sugar refining


(Wiki Commons; Institution of Chemical Engineers)

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

Joseph Lee • Bread Maker


(NIHF; US Patent Office)

Building on his 1894 invention of a commercial bread-kneading machine, which helped prevent flour waste at his Woodland Park hotel, the Boston-area inventor patented this contraption in 1902. He could mix ingredients and knead the dough automatically , a direct precursor of today’s bakeries. .

Frederick McKinley Jones • Refrigeration Unit


(Minnesota Historical Society)

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

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