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’t eat just one!” A tiny nibble off the edge of a potato chip, regardless of what your good intentions, led from the nibble to a normal size bite. Without thinking, you had eaten the whole chip in a blink of an eye. You thought to yourself, another processor can’t hurt. Nor another one, nor the one after that. Good heavens! Were you turning into a potato chip junkie?
Let us shed some light on the roots of the crunchy treat.
In the mid 1850s, skillet 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 was only when 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 that George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip. He was a colorful personality in the Saratoga Springs area.
As mentioned before, fried potatoes were a favorite fare. A demanding dinner guest, rumored to be Cornelius Vanderbilt, found his order of French fries (at the time, 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 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 that were much too thin and sharp to be skewered by a fork.
Crum originally known as his bite”Potato Crunches” but the dish, now a house specialty, was listed on the menu as”Saratoga Chips.” Soon thereafter, they were packed and sold, initially locally, but rapidly grew in popularity throughout the New England area.
In 1860, Crum opened up his own restaurant that featured his chips as the house specialty. He put baskets of the chips on each table and they became an essential drawing point to the success of the restaurant. Besides marketing the chips, Crum foolishly didn’t patent or otherwise protect his invention.
Peeling and slicing potatoes manually was slow and tedious. The 1920s invention of the mechanical potato peeler resulted in the potato chip industry to skyrocket from being a small specialty item to a top-selling snack food.
Potato chips were chiefly a Northern dinner dish for several decades after their invention. But, 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.
In 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 creation to Southern grocers straight from the trunk of his car, his name and company eventually becoming synonymous with this crisp and salty treat. In 1932, he bought a potato chip factory in Atlanta. 1938 marked the beginning of Lay’s Brand Potato Chips.
The first part of the 20th century caused several companies building large factories to the mass production of potato chips. The 1920s gave birth of three businesses which define the potato chip industry.
Earl Wise, Sr., of the Wise Delicatessen Company in Berwick, Pennsylvania, had too many potatoes. In 1921, he utilized the extras to make potato chips and sold them in brown paper bags as Wise Potato Chips throughout the delicatessen.
In 1921, Utz Quality Foods of Hanover, Pennsylvania was founded by Bill and Salie Utz. 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 little summer house behind their dwelling.
1926 was noteworthy for potato chip distribution. Until then, potato chips were stored 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 customer’s hands.
Laura Scudder had a family chip company in Monterey Park, California. She understood the inherent flaw in the paper sacks; nobody enjoyed being coated with cooking oil. Her inspired solution for this problem was brilliant. . This day, the employees hand-filled chips into 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.
Some interesting side notes:
In colonial times, New Englanders considered potatoes to be ideal as pig fodder. They believed that ingesting these tubers shortened a person’s life expectancy. The New Englanders were not concerned that potatoes were fried in fat and covered with salt (each cardiologist’s bane); they had much more worry about pleasures of the flesh. They believed the potato, in its pristine condition, contained an aphrodisiac which led to actions and behaviour felt to be harmful to long life; based on these souls, eating an unadulterated potato led to the demon SEX and of course, sex led to the downfall of man. For more than over a century, we’ve known this to be not true and only caused by misdirected thinking.
Mass potato chip manufacturing, in modern facilities, uses continuous fryers or flash frying. Shockingly, some potato chips are made from reconstituted potato flakes (yuck!) In place of raw potato slices.
I bet you can not eat just one…