According to the Snack Food Association, the potato chip was born a generation after the French fry, on August 24, 1853 in another elegant dining room: this one, at the fashionable Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga, New York. A testy older diner, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt*, sent his food back to the kitchen, complaining that the fried potatoes were not sliced thin enough and were too soggy.
The cook, George Crum†, cut and fried a thinner batch, but these, too, were rejected. Equally testy, Crum decided to fight back by slicing the potatoes wafer-thin, frying them to a crisp in boiling oil and over-salting them. They were too crisp to eat: they could not be pierced with a fork without shattering—and no gentleman of the day would have dreamed of picking up food with his fingers at the dining table.
But Crum’s fit of pique was rewarded with compliments to the chef: the Commodore loved the “crunch potato slices.” Other diners requested the potatoes (“I’ll have what he’s having”), which began to appear on the menu as Saratoga Chips, a house specialty.
Soon the chips were packaged and sold, first locally, then throughout the New England area.
“Saratoga Chips” became a hit and Crum eventually opened his own restaurant across the lake, featuring them. There is an old photo of a gift box, much like a box of salt water taffy, with an engraving of what may be Crum’s lodge and the words “The Original Saratoga Chips, Saratoga Specialties, Saratoga, N.Y.”
In 2009, entrepreneurs in Saratoga revived the brand, creating the original box art from an original found in the Saratoga Museum. Crum’s recipe was also researched, and now the original Saratoga Chips are back. You can order them from The Nibble Gourmet Market.
*At that time, the Commodore was a steamboat magnate. He later created the New York Central Railroad system and became the wealthiest man in America. Chef George Crum was a Native American from the Huron tribe, which was indigenous to the Saratoga area. See more information about Crum in the next footnote.
†C. R. Gibbs, in the 1975 book, The Afro-American Inventor (Washington, D.C.: Gibbs), describes Crum as “part Indian, part black, a former guide in the Adirondacks, and in his own way a rather colorful figure in this area.” Gibbs ascribes to him an “irascible nature.” A 1941 source called him “a tough old codger who had once been an Indian trapper” and mentioned five wives, who supplied labor when he opened his own restaurant at the south end of the lake.