Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Potato Chip Day!

Chipping at Potato Chip History:

Today, on National Potato Chip Day, I would like to share a recipe booklet published under the direction of Florence La Ganke Harris, one time director of The National Potato Chip Institute. It isn't dated but from the looks of it, I would say it was probably published in the the 1930s or 40s. The title of this 16 page booklet is Thank You Mrs. Chips! From the inside flap:

"Thank You, Mrs. Chips" is a companion piece to the movie, "Thank You, Mr. Chips". Mr. Chips in the film, tells the story of the firsrt potato chips, and take us through a modern potato chip plant. He helps Mrs. Whipple's morale when she entertains her husband's boss at dinner.

Mrs. Chips, in this booklet, uses photographs, sketches, and chatter to help any host or hostess gain the reputation of serving delicious foods at table set with originality and charm.

For the menu planning helps, for the rules for table settings, for service, for table decorations, and for foods for serving crowds, we say, "Thank You, Mrs. Chips"

As luck would have it, I couldn't find any crumbles of the so called Mr. Chips film besides, the iconic Goodbye, Mr. Chips. However, I did find an amusing video online titled the Adventures of Chip and Dip (1968)

The short begins with two animated leprechauns, Chip and Dip, happily prattling away about the history of potato chips. We learn that they came into existence in 1853 by a series of lucky accidents credited to inn keeper George Crum, at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Chipping History

Now, we all know the story of George Crum the son of an African-American father and a Native American mother, and the invention of the Saratoga Chip. Legend has it that Mr. Crum invented the potato chip in 1853 at the Moon Lake Resort in Saratoga Springs, NY. As a matter of fact, the American Snack Food Association (originally The National Potato Chip Institute) celebrated its first Potato Chip Day in August of 2003 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Potato Chip in Saratoga Springs.

"Snack food history was made when a fussy customer met a chunky French fry. George Crum, a talented chef of Native American and African American ancestry, created the first potato chip in 1853 at the Moon Lake Resort in Saratoga Springs, NY. French fries were one of the specialties of the house, but one day a customer complained that the fries were too thick. When the second batch of trimmed fries didn't placate the customer, Crum made his third batch so thin that they couldn't be eaten with a fork. The customer loved them and the potato chip was born."

Okay, so now that we've chipped away at where the potato chip came from, that's if you read the history of the french fry, you understand why George Crum would automatically assume the would be gentleman was getting exactly what he ordered. No wonder he got his dander up when the man was not pleased. (according to urban legend, the "gentleman" was none other than railroad tycoon, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt) George Crum was serving the menu entry just as Thomas Jefferson had in the late 18th century.

According to the Saratoga County Historical Society, “A similar story explains that Kate (Speck) Wicks, who also worked at Moon's, accidentally dropped a chip of potato into the hot fat, and Crum fished it out and tasted it. Further research indicated that George's sister, Kate Speck Wicks, has the stronger claim.” George Crum did not take credit for or patent the invention.

Another part of the widely-referenced legend mentioned by the Saratoga County Historical Society is, “An interesting variant of the dissatisfied customer story seems to have been created in the 1970s by a potato chip industry support organization, which claimed the dissatisfied customer was none other than Cornelius Vanderbilt. This claim has been widely disproved.”

Another story, believed by most historians to be the closest to reality, claims that Crum's sister, Kate, accidentally dropped a pile of potato slices into a vat of boiling grease. Crum fished them out and decided to do a taste test. Finding them "good enough to eat," he placed them in baskets on all the tables. Crum eventually opened his own restaurant and the "Saratoga chips" were born. source

While most sources agree on the geographical location of the first potato chip, there does seem to be a sliver of chip chat when it comes to the actual "inventor." Some believe the potato chip was not an invention at all but more likely the product of a few minor mishaps. The most likely story puts Mr. Crum at the "scene of the crime" with his sister Kate. If you really want to dig into the barrel of the history of the potato chip, the most unbiased report can be found in the Atlas of Popular Culture. There's enough salt and vinegar to please the most discretionary palate:)

Saratoga at that time was the premier "watering hole" for mid 19th century society. Close to New York, it attracted the very highest strata of the society and one member of that group, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, plays a key role in some "official versions" of the story. All sources derived from the Snack Food Association of America's large, picture book volume on the history and development of the snack food industry refer to Vanderbilt as being the patron. Others who refer to Charles Panati's (1989) excellent but not well documented Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Ordinary Things speak only of an unnamed patron. It is very likely that Vanderbilt ate at the lodge and there are other stories of his appreciation of Crum's cooking, but it appears largely a matter of conjecture that he was indeed the person.

The inclusion of the Commodore in this story was the work of the Snack Food Association. In a privately published cookbook, a relative by marriage of the Vanderbilt family (Whitney 1977) says she learned of it from a clipping sent to her by a friend in August of 1976 where the Snack Food Association during its annual convention named Vanderbilt as the customer who sent the chips back. The association repeated the story in the history of snack food they published in 1987 (Snack Food Association 1987), even including a photograph of the Commodore.

Commodore Vanderbilt appears in the story in another way. Most versions mention that after the success of the chips, George Crum built his own restaurant on Saratoga Lake. Barrett (1941, 186) said that the restaurant, called Crumbs House, "had been started on its career by William Wall, old Commodore Vanderbilt and three other men."

Potato Chip Recipes

Making your own potato chips at home is incredibly easy. Check out this recipe for "Light as air Potato Chips" @ the Steamy Kitchen. On the other hand, what do you do with those leftover potato chip crumbs on the bottom of the bag? Or, what do you do if you just happen to make a huge batch of potato chips and there are leftovers? Yeah sure...Let's suppose you find the deal of the century 10 bags for $10.00, but you must buy ten. (I can't stand when they do that:) Well, first, you must learn how to crush your potato chips to size. You must put every fragmented chip to good use and the best way to do that is to crush them properly. Not only does the chip crushing chart below give you instructions for crumbling potato chips, it also give you yields for doodles, corn chips, pretzels, tortilla chips and Bravos. The Crispy Ham and Cheese Sandwich recipe and chart are courtesy of another Wise recipe booklet published in 1979.

The Cheese and Nut Loaf recipe below, included for those meatless days we are all getting reacquainted with, is courtesy of Mrs. Chips.

revised March 2013

1. Karen Hess (NYT obit)
2. The Story of America's Favorite Vegetable
3. Cabinet of curiosities: Potatoes (my post for potato month)
4. Baked Sweet Potato Chips (vegweb)


  1. Wow I had no idea there was so much to the potato chip thing. I guess the next time I am shovelling the down by the fist full, I will think of this post. Nice Work

  2. Thanks for stopping by Krispin. I don't indulge in potato chips but I know for sure they can be fun to make at home. I'm thinking I may try sweet potato chips at some point in time...

    Thank you for your kind words, drop by anytime...

  3. Let me offer crisp best wishes for the day! My favorite has always been crushed potatoe chips on top of tuna casserole!

  4. Wow I didn't know all that about potato chips! Great post!
    Ps: sorry I'm so behind with my comments - I've been decorating all week!

  5. whoever thought there'd be so much history to the potato chips we eat all the time.

  6. he, he, T.W. I completely forgot how crispin tuna casserole can be with potato chips.

    Where oh where do you get all that energy Jan? Thanks for popping in!

    I know what you mean Raaga, it's bits like this that make my blogging time so much FUN!!!

  7. I've actually recently discovered microwave potato chips -- slice potatoes very very thin, sprinkle with whatever salt or spices you want, then microwave for 3-4 minutes (watching carefully to avoid burning). They are amazingly tasty and don't require any oil. It's one of those things I figured, "nah, without oil it can't possibly be good" -- and they aren't exactly the same as potato chips but they taste just fine :)

  8. Thanks for sharing that inventive idea, Erica. It sounds interesting. I'm not much of a chips nosher but I sure will pass it on. Thanks for dropping by...

  9. Use sweet potato for making chips.

  10. Interesting blog post with wonderful pictures of old brochures that I always enjoy viewing. I remember making a potato chip cookie back in the seventies and liking it very much. Crushed potato chips from the bottom of the bag can be frozen (as can entire bags of potato chips (so buy then on sale and stock up!) until needed to top such things as chicken salad or other baked casseroles.


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