From 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!” Truer words were never spoken. A tiny nibble off the edge of a potato chip, no matter what your good intentions, led in the nibble to a normal size bite. Without thinking, you’d eaten the entire chip in a blink of an eye. You thought to yourself, another processor can’t hurt. Nor the next one, nor the one after that. Good heavens! Was the commercial right? Were you turning into a potato chip junkie?
Let us shed some light on the roots of this crunchy treat.
In the mid 1850s, frying potatoes was an accepted and popular form of American cooking. They weren’t eaten with the fingers but rather, served with a fork, to be consumed in a genteel manner. Restaurants throughout the country were serving fried potatoes, but it was only when the chef in Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York, sliced the potato pieces so thin did they become the rage.
It is usually believed by food historians who George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip. He was a brilliant personality in the Saratoga Springs area.
As stated before, fried potatoes were a popular fare. 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 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 sharp to be skewered by a fork.
The fussy diner was ecstatic about the paper-thin potatoes and other guests asked Crum’s potatoes for themselves. Crum originally called his snack”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 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. Other than advertising the chips, Crum foolishly did not patent or 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 chiefly a Northern dinner dish for many decades after their creation. But, in the 1920s, merchandizing and distribution of the snack took a turn for the better; their popularity growing year by year throughout the entire 20th century.
In the 1920s, Herman Lay, a traveling salesman working the Southern region of the country, was a significant catalyst in popularizing the chips from Atlanta to Tennessee. He peddled Crum’s invention to Southern grocers straight from the trunk of his car, his name and business 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 brought forth several companies building large factories for the mass production of potato chips. The 1920s gave birth of three companies which specify the potato chip market.
Earl Wise, Sr., of the Wise Delicatessen Company in Berwick, Pennsylvania, had too many potatoes. In 1921, he used the extras to make potato chips and marketed 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 marketed and sold by her husband Bill, and were known as Hanover Home Brand Potato Chips.
1926 was notable for potato chip supply. Until then, potato chips were stored in bulk in cracker barrels or glass display cases. Retailers dispensed the chips in paper bags. Paper was not very practical, as oil from the chips could seep through the sacks and on the consumer’s hands.
Laura Scudder had a household 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 for this problem was brilliant. . The following day, the workers hand-filled chips to the waxed paper bags and then sealed them with a warm iron. Voila!
Potato chips are now the favorite snack of Americans, who eat more potato chips than any other population 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 (every cardiologist’s bane); they had much more worry about pleasures of the flesh. They considered the potato, in its pristine state, contained an aphrodisiac which led to actions and behaviour felt to be detrimental to long life; according to those souls, eating an unadulterated potato resulted in the demon SEX and of course, sex led to 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. Shockingly, some potato chips are made from reconstituted potato flakes (yuck!) In place of raw potato pieces.
I bet you can not eat just one…