Friday, March 13, 2015

Let us praise the potato chip, Saratoga-born or not

George Crum and his sister
Catherine 'Aunt Kate' Weeks
Saturday, March 14, is National Potato Chip Day. It's always nice to celebrate something that might have been created locally, so this is a perfect item to praise.

Even though numerous recipes for the ultra-thinly-sliced fried potatoes have been pointed to in a number of cookbooks that predate the event, many American food historians (here, here and here, for example) credit the creation of the potato chip to George Crum, who whipped up a batch at Moon's Lake House on Saratoga Lake back in 1853. Others sources cite an 1822 English cookbook written by one William Kitchiner as the true origin.

Crum was born in Malta in 1828 of a Native American Huron mother and an African-American father who was a jockey. He segued from being a popular Adirondack guide and trapper to becoming a cook of note and eventually a restaurant owner in Saratoga Springs.

The legend of the chip's origin grew over the years, with some versions claiming the customer for whom Crum made his potato chips was none other than the legendary industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt, who spent a lot of time in the Saratoga area. Contemporaneous biographies and obituaries of Crum make no mention of potato chips.

No matter what version you care to accept, the presence of potato chips is indisputable. That innovation paced the way for a food marketing niche that pulls in about $3 billion a year in the U.S. alone, and about $18 billion globally, accounting for about one-third of all snack food sold.

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