It was July, 1853, and George Crum was working as a chef at Cary Moon’s Lakehouse, an upscale restaurant in Saratoga Springs that catered to wealthy Manhattan families building summer escapes upstate. One of his customers sent back his French fries because they were thick and soggy (h/t NYT). After the man (who is rumored to have been Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, though this can’t be confirmed) sent back a second batch of the fried potatoes, Crum decided to get even, a decision that would land him a place in culinary history.
Carey Moon’s Lakehouse in 1896
George Crum was born in 1824 to a black father and a Native American mother, according to the Times. He worked in the Adirondacks as a hunter, guide, and cook. He specialized in wild game, and it was this culinary skill that led him to get hired at Cary Moon’s.
On that July day, frustrated by the difficult customer, Crum sliced potatoes very thin, fried them to a crisp in grease, and poured salt all over them, producing what he thought was an inedible riff on the French fry. But his guest loved the “potato crunches,” as Crum originally dubbed them, and before long other diners were requesting them and they made their way to the Lakehouse’s menu as Saratoga Chips.
A replica of the original Moon Brand Chips packaging, via nom nom paleo
They chips grew so popular that they were packaged and sold locally and eventually throughout New England. Crum went on to open his restaurant in 1860. Simply called Crum’s, it was located on Storey Hill in neighboring Malta, New York, and every table received a basket of chips.
Crum died in 1914 never having patented his chips, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that the snack really took off as a national phenomenon, due mainly to the invention of the mechanical potato peeler. Though Carey Moon’s Lakehouse is no longer, in 1976, a plaque commemorating Crum and his invention was put up nearby.
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