The Potato Chip

Bet You Can’t Eat Just One!

May 10, 2022

Whenever I read statements of (fill in the blank) was invented on (fill in the blank) date, I scurry my way over to the Infallible Wikipedia to verify the information. Frequently, I can find zero confirmation of the particular event occurring on that date. And, as with today’s topic, glean new information that suggests that not only is the date incorrect, but the person credited with the invention really was not.

I present for your contemplation the story of how and when the potato chip was invented.

Saratoga Chips package

Now according to legend, it was a chef in Saratoga, New York, who cooked the first potato chip for a customer who complained that his potatoes were too thick/too soggy/too something. The chef – one George Crum (real last name Speck), trying to appease the customer, returned to his kitchen, sliced the potatoes thin and then fried them. Viola! The first potato chips.

George Crum and, possibly, his sister Kate Wicks who some claim was the real inventor

Upon deeper digging, however, a cookbook from the early 1800’s suggests that Crum was not the first. Yes, The Infallible Wikipedia provides us more information:

“The earliest known recipe for something similar to today’s potato chips is in William Kitchiner’s book The Cook’s Oracle published in 1817, which was a bestseller in the United Kingdom and the United States. The 1822 edition’s recipe for ‘Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings’ reads ‘peel large potatoes… cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping’. An 1825 British book about French cookery calls them ‘Pommes de Terre frites’ (second recipe) and calls for thin slices of potato fried in ‘clarified butter or goose dripping’, drained and sprinkled with salt. Early recipes for potato chips in the US are found in Mary Randolph’s Virginia House-Wife (1824) and in N.K.M. Lee’s Cook’s Own Book (1832), both of which explicitly cite Kitchiner.”

Kitchiner’s recipe for potato chips appeared in the Cook’s Oracle

As usual, there is a wealth of information which shares the exhaustive history of the potato chip from invention to modifications over the years. One need only walk down a grocery store aisle and see the entire length filled with the product to note its popularity.

It was in the 1950’s when the next big step in potato chips occurred: the addition of flavors. The Infallible Wikipedia continues:

“After some trial and error, in 1954, Joe ‘Spud’ Murphy, the owner of the Irish crisps company Tayto, and his employee Seamus Burke, produced the world’s first seasoned chips: Cheese & Onion. Companies worldwide sought to buy the rights to Tayto’s technique. Walkers of Leicester, England produced Cheese & Onion the same year. Golden Wonder (Smith’s main competitor at the time) would also produce Cheese & Onion, and Smith’s countered with Salt & Vinegar (tested first by their north-east England subsidiary Tudor) which launched nationally in 1967, starting a two-decade-long flavour war.

Bert Lahr – who played the cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz movie – was the face of Lay’s Potato chips in the 1960’s. I thought he was kind of creepy.

The first flavored chips in the United States, barbecue flavor, were being manufactured and sold by 1954. In 1958, Herr’s was the first company to introduce barbecue-flavored potato chips in Pennsylvania.”

But back to William Kitchiner. Does that sound like a made up name or what?

Back in the early 1800’s in England, the thought of a woman writing a book – even a cookbook – was simply not done. The famous novel Frankenstein was written by a woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, but published anonymously in 1818.

Which brings us back to the potato chip and ‘who’ really cooked the first ones. My guess is that it was a woman, experimenting in her kitchen. And that William Kitchiner, who could live off his inheritance, took her recipe when he published his cookbook in 1824.

Of course none of that really matters. What matters is that someone DID invent the potato chip, that delicious, can’t eat just one, crunchy and satisfying snack.

A typical display of Lay’s potato chips

But the big question is WHAT is your favorite potato chip flavor? I find myself torn between ‘Sour Cream & Onion’ or ‘Cheddar & Sour Cream’. In my family, my son gravitates towards ‘Salt & Vinegar’, while the daughter prefers ‘Lime’ or ‘Dill Pickle’ (although she really likes Tim’s Sasquatch flavor) Since I’m staying with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days I asked them also and the answer is ‘Barbeque’ for her and either ‘Lime’ or ‘Salt & Vinegar’for him.

But back to the hubby’s response which, I think, speaks for many:

“Salt and vinegar, BBQ, Lay’s original. Now I want chips…”

Whatever your preference, we can cheer for Mr. Crum, or Mr. Kitchiner, or perhaps some unheralded mother, slaving away in her kitchen and experimenting with new ways to cook potatoes for her family. Any way you slice it, the world loves potato chips!

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato_chip

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kitchiner

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Speck

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lay%27s

https://www.thoughtco.com/george-crum-potato-chip-4165983

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