The Alleged Birth of the Potato Chip
Legend holds it was 1853 when renowned shipping and railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt, was wildly dissatisfied with the fried potatoes he had been served at dinner. Livid he was served such squalor, Vanderbilt sent the dish back to the kitchen with a request for the potatoes to be sliced even thinner.
Upon news of the request, George Crum, the acclaimed chef who had prepared them was deeply offended! In defiant response, the chef sliced the potatoes as thinly as possible, fried them to a crisp, salted them, and served them to Vanderbilt. To Crum's great surprise, the snooty diner found the thin and crispy potatoes positively delectable, thus giving birth to the potato chip. Well, allegedly.
Correcting Historical Inaccuracy
For well over a century, the Vanderbilt-Crum story was widely accepted across the historical and culinary communities. Crum, also known as George Speck, was even honored in 1976 by American Heritage magazine with the title of "Edison of Grease." However, multiple sources, including the History Channel, identify several red flags in the potato chip origin story.
First, Vanderbilt could not have been the disgruntled diner in question. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, "The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt," T.J. Stiles conclusively debunked the tall tale.
Secondly, despite his widespread recognition and celebration as a chef known for delicious dishes like brook trout, lake bass, woodcock, and partridge, Crum's supposed role in inventing the potato chip was largely overlooked during his lifetime. This is especially surprising as he may very well have been America's first celebrity chef.
Then, in 1889, a writer for the New York Herald hailed Crum as "the best cook in the country," without ever mentioning the alleged potato chip accomplishment. Furthermore, most of Crum's obituaries in 1914 also fail to reference the potato chip. The few that do only mention Crum was "said to have" invented it.
So Who Really Invented the Potato Chip?
The obituary of Catherine Adkins Wicks, Crum's sister who lived to be 103, claimed she was the true originator of the potato chip we know and munch today.
Wicks, affectionately known as Aunt Kate or Aunt Katie, worked alongside her brother in the kitchen. In one version of the disgruntled diner story, it is Wicks, not Crum, who thinly sliced the potatoes out of irritation.
In another version, Aunt Katie accidentally dropped a thin slice into a pot of boiling fat while peeling potatoes, retrieved it with a fork, and had experienced a eureka moment!
true inventor of the potato chip remains a subject of debate and uncertainty. The widely circulated Crum story lacks substantial evidence and is contested by historical records and accounts.
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