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“Saratoga Chips” became the world’s most popular snack – potato crisps

Posted in America, Historical articles, History on Friday, 27 April 2012

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This edited article about George Crum originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

George Crum, picture, image, illustration

The chef, George Crum, presents the difficult diner with his novel creation

We cannot, alas, sing the praises of the man or woman who first joined bacon to eggs or the unknown genius who married lamb to mint sauce. We can reveal, however, the name of the inventor of the potato crisp, confident in the knowledge that at least 90 per cent of “Look and Learn” readers will be pleased to know it and think kindly of the man the next time they nibble a crisp.

His name was Crum.

Actually, he invented the potato chip, for it happened in America, where crisps are confusingly known as chips. Those intending to visit the States will naturally wish to know how to ask for what the British call chips. They should banish all thoughts of the Mother Country and say with conviction: “French fried, please.”

But back to Crum. He was a Red Indian, an unlikely story for a start, but true, for this particular Red Man was the chef of a smart eating establishment at Saratoga Springs, New York State, called the Moon Lake Lodge.

Crum’s first name was George and he was a chief as well as a chef. This was a strong combination, for chefs are notoriously temperamental, and so are Indian Chiefs, not outwardly, perhaps, but certainly inwardly. They are not men who like being got at.

That night in 1853, George Crum was definitely being got at. One of the diners at Moon Lake Lodge, set in the heart of what was once Indian country, had just returned from a trip to Paris, and while in Gay Paree had been rather taken with the local French fried potatoes (our chips, if you recall), which were somewhat slimmer than the Yankee variety.

So when the returned wanderer was faced with some typically large American French fried, he got restive and sent them back to Indian George with a request that they should be made thinner.

The chef did as he was bid, but his replacement batch of French fried were still too thick for the newly refined palate of the traveller, who sent yet another single word message to the kitchen: “Thinner!”

The infuriated chief-chef sharpened his knife. His grandfather would very likely have scalped the over-demanding guest, but Crum vented his rage on the potatoes in front of him. He seized them one by one and cut them until they were wafer-thin. Then he dropped them into a pan filled with boiling fat, swiftly got them out again, liberally tossed salt over them, put them on a plate and stalked grimly into the dining room, setting his efforts in front of the difficult customer.

He was not difficult for long, for once he had tasted Crum’s invention he became the happiest of men, and so did other patrons of Moon Lodge. It was only a matter of time before “Saratoga Chips” became nationally famous.

But for many years they were not a mass-produced product, but a recipe for the home. Peeling potatoes is no one’s idea of a good time and “chipping” was just another chore, for all its popular end-product. Then, in the 1920s, the mechanical potato peeler was introduced and factories soon sprang up devoted entirely to the manufacture of chips (crisps).

We have no available statistics from America for the 1970s yet, but in the ’60s Americans were munching some 600 million pounds of potatoes a year as crisps, and there were 25,000 people employed keeping those little packets full. The British cannot have been all that far behind. Crum, knife and pan in hand, deserves a statue more than most. Remember his name next time you start on a packet.

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