Potato chips

Revenge can also lead to innovation

George Crum (Saratoga Lake, New York, 1822 – July 22, 1914)

The chips—the potato chips, not the ones from Silicon Valley—are over a hundred and fifty years old. They were conceived in Saratoga Springs, a spa town three hours from New York. Saratoga, meaning 'running waters', was an exclusive resort town around 1850. Everyone who had name and fame sought out the medicinal springs. For the nouveaux riches of the American east coast, Saratoga was proof that you no longer had to go to Europe for a sophisticated spa life.

The Americans have known European fries for some time. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, brought the recipe in person from Paris in 1789, where he had been ambassador for five years. On a fine day in August 1853, all sources say, the Moon Lake Lodge restaurant had a guest who thought the chips were too thick and too pasty. One George Crum, a burly Indian of the Huron tribe, was working in the kitchen.

Some say he was half African, half Huron. Crum had had a rough few years as a mountain guide and trapper and had now somewhat settled down as a kitchen chef. He was a fantastic cook, but criticism was hard for him to take. If a dish returned to the kitchen with a complaint, you could be sure that George was doing something horrific with the dish. And he enjoyed watching customers react to his updated version. He didn't care that they ran out the door angrily.

On that summer day, for example, he received a portion of chips back, according to one version because George had cut them too thick, according to the other because they were not crispy. The cook showed some understanding and made a portion of thinner, better-cooked chips. But behold, they also turned

back. Then came the infamous moment when George got vengeful. He cut a potato into wafer-thin slices, fried them rock hard and put so much salt on them that they were no longer edible. Much to his surprise, the guest really liked the weird slices. And he asked for an extra portion. The next day, Crum's boss put "Saratoga Chips" on the menu. Restaurant goers ate those early chips hot and with a knife and fork.

In some potato chips stories, "Commodore" Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon who often stayed in Saratoga, is featured as Crum's troublesome guest. In others, Crum's sister Katie, who also worked in the kitchen, mistakenly dropped a slice of potato into the deep fryer while peeling potatoes.

In 1860, barely a year before the outbreak of the Civil War, George Crum set up his own restaurant called Crums House. Since 1976, a plaque at that location has commemorated the origin of the chips in Saratoga. George put a basket of a dried version of his crisps on every table in his restaurant. That in itself was an attraction. As Saratoga Chips, he also sold them in takeout boxes.

Crum made no attempt to patent or protect his invention. You can perhaps see why in the only photo of him that has survived: the burly man wears a straw hat, his eyes are in shadow, he wears a scarf against the sweat and his large belly is covered with a checkered kitchen apron. Next to him is his Indian wife. Two simple peasant people looking into the camera with a look that says: what's the point?

The tourists took the Saratoga Chips home and they gradually appeared in grocery stores in the eastern United States. George closed his business in 1890, when he was 68. By 1920, a lady came up with the idea of putting them in waxed paper bags to keep them crispy longer. Herman Lay (of the Lay's brand today) began manufacturing them industrially from 1932 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Americans can now choose between more than a hundred types of chips. In American cookbooks you will also find dishes with cucumber soup and chips, fish sticks with chips or cake with chips. Chicken is also possible. "Roll the chicken breast in crushed chips," one recipe begins.

A dark day in potato chip culture came in late 1969 when the company Procter and Gamble came up with the idea of manufacturing potato chips like sausages or soap. She first turned the potatoes into pulp, pressed the pulp into identical slices, fried them and put them in an airtight container.

Pringles' potato chip lookalikes are still on the market 40 years later, despite political commentator Mark Russell's scathing ideological critique: “When I was a kid,” he wrote, “potato chips didn't come in airtight containers. No, chips were free, floating around in a bag, they were born free.

The new ones all look identical. You can buy them in Washington and San Francisco, they are identical everywhere. If that isn't communism, then I really don't know what is.'


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