In the mid 1960s, there was a tv commercial extolling the golden, crunchy goodness of potato chips. Its catch phrase was”I bet you can not eat just one!” A tiny nibble off the edge of a potato chip, regardless of what your good intentions, led in the nibble to a normal size snack. Without thinking, you had eaten the whole chip at a blink of an eye. You thought to yourself, another processor can not hurt. Nor another one, nor the one after that. What was happening?! Good heavens! Was the commercial right? Are you currently turning into a potato chip junkie?
Let’s shed some light on the roots of the crunchy treat.
In the mid 1850s, frying potatoes was an accepted and popular form of American cooking. They were not eaten with the fingers but instead, served with a fork, to be consumed in a genteel manner. Restaurants across the nation were serving fried potatoes, but it wasn’t until the chef at Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York, sliced the potato pieces so sparse did they become the rage.
It is generally believed by food historians who George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip. He was a brilliant personality in the Saratoga Springs area. A former guide from the Adirondacks, he came from a racially mixed background; he was part Indian and part African-American.
As stated earlier, fried potatoes were a popular fare. A demanding dinner guest, rumored to be Cornelius Vanderbilt, found his order of French fries (at the moment, potatoes cut in a round shape) too thick for his liking and sent them back to the kitchen. Crum made another batch, cut thinner than before and also fried, but these, too, were also rejected as being too thick. By this time, Crum was more than aggravated and in a fit of pique, took it upon himself to rile the guest by making him French fries which were much too thin and crisp to be skewered by a fork.
The fussy diner was ecstatic about the paper-thin potatoes and other guests requested Crum’s potatoes for themselves. Crum initially known as his bite”Potato Crunches” but the dish, now a house specialty, was recorded on the menu as”Saratoga Chips.” Shortly thereafter, they were packed and sold, initially locally, but rapidly grew in popularity throughout the New England area.
In 1860, Crum opened his own restaurant which featured his processors as the house specialty. He put baskets of the chips on each table and they became a vital drawing point to the success of the restaurant. Besides advertising the chips, Crum foolishly didn’t patent or otherwise protect his invention.
Peeling and slicing potatoes was slow and tedious. The 1920s invention of the mechanical potato peeler resulted in the potato chip industry to skyrocket from being a little specialty item to a top-selling snack meals.
Potato chips were mostly a Northern dinner dish for many decades after their invention. However, in the 1920s, merchandizing and distribution of the snack took a turn for the better; their popularity increasing year by year throughout the entire 20th century.
From the 1920s, Herman Lay, a traveling salesman working the Southern area of the country, was a significant catalyst in popularizing the chips from Atlanta to Tennessee. He peddled Crum’s invention to Southern grocers straight out of the trunk of his car, his name and business eventually becoming synonymous with this crisp and salty treat. In 1932, he purchased a potato chip factory in Atlanta. 1938 marked the beginning of Lay’s Brand Potato Chips.
The first part of the 20th century brought forth several companies building large factories to the mass production of potato chips. The 1920s gave birth of three businesses which specify the potato chip industry.
In 1921, he used the extras to make potato chips and sold them in brown paper bags as Wise Potato Chips through the delicatessen.
Salie made the chips that were promoted and sold by her husband Bill, and were known as Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips. Salie was able to turn out about 50 pounds of potato chips per hour, using hand-operated equipment, in a small summer house behind their home.
1926 was notable for potato chip distribution. Until then, potato chips were kept in bulk in cracker barrels or glass display cases. Paper was not very practical, as oil in the chips could seep through the sacks and onto the consumer’s hands.
Laura Scudder had a family chip business in Monterey Park, California. She knew the inherent flaw in the paper sacks; nobody enjoyed being covered with cooking oil. Her inspired solution to this problem was brilliant. When her women employees went home at night, carrying sheets of waxed paper, they hand-ironed them into bags (the first Baggie(TM)?) . This day, the employees hand-filled chips to the waxed paper bags and then sealed them with a warm iron. Voila!
Potato chips are now the preferred snack of Americans, who eat more potato chips than any other people in the world.
In colonial times, New Englanders considered potatoes to be perfect as pig fodder. They believed that ingesting these tubers shortened a person’s life expectancy. The New Englanders weren’t concerned that potatoes were fried in fat and covered with salt (each cardiologist’s bane); they had more worry about joys of the flesh. They believed the potato, in its pristine state, contained an aphrodisiac that led to actions and behavior felt to be harmful to long life; based on those spirits, eating an unadulterated potato resulted in the demon SEX and needless to say, sex resulted in the downfall of man. For over a century, we have known this to be not true and just caused by misdirected thinking.
Mass potato chip production, in modern facilities, uses continuous fryers or flash frying. In place of raw potato pieces.
I bet you can’t eat just one…