In the mid 1960s, there was a television commercial extolling the gold, crunchy goodness of potato chips. Its catch phrase was”I bet you can’t eat just one!” A small nibble off the edge of a potato chip, regardless of what your good intentions, led in the nibble into 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 not hurt. Nor the next one, nor the one after that. What was happening?! Good heavens! Were you turning into a potato chip junkie?
Let us shed some light on the roots of this crunchy treat.
In the mid 1850s, skillet was an accepted and popular type 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 country 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’s generally thought by food historians that George Crum was the inventor of the potato chip. He was a colorful personality in the Saratoga Springs area. A former guide in the Adirondacks, he came from a racially mixed background; he was part Indian and part African-American.
As mentioned earlier, fried potatoes were a popular fare. 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 that were much too thin and crisp to be skewered by a fork.
His “revenge” backfired on him. The fussy diner was ecstatic about the paper-thin potatoes and other guests requested Crum’s potatoes for themselves. Crum initially called his bite”Potato Crunches” but the dish, now a house specialty, was listed on the menu as”Saratoga Chips.” Shortly thereafter, they were packaged and sold, at first locally, but rapidly grew in popularity throughout the New England region.
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 an essential drawing point to the success of his restaurant. Other than advertising the chips, Crum foolishly did not patent or protect his invention.
Peeling and slicing potatoes was dull and slow. The 1920s invention of the mechanical potato peeler caused 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 several 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 major 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 company 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 early part of the 20th century caused 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 utilized the extras to make potato chips and sold them in brown paper bags as Wise Potato Chips through the delicatessen.
Salie made the chips which were marketed and sold by her husband Bill, and were called 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 notable for potato chip supply. 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 household chip company in Monterey Park, California. She knew the inherent flaw in the paper sacks; no one enjoyed being covered with cooking oil. Her motivated solution for this problem was brilliant. When her girls employees went home at night, carrying sheets of waxed paper, they hand-ironed them into bags (the original Baggie(TM)?) . The following day, the employees hand-filled chips into the waxed paper bags and then sealed them with a warm iron. Voila! Greaseproof bags, ready to be delivered to retailers.
Potato chips are now the favorite snack of Americans, who eat more potato chips than any other people on earth.
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 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 believed the potato, in its pristine condition, contained an aphrodisiac that led to actions and behaviour felt to be detrimental 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 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’t eat just one…