Pleasures of Life Dept.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Chips
Snag a bag on National Potato Chip Day
By Tom Allen
Hold on, St. Patrick. Your day’s coming. But before you pass the corned beef and cabbage, offer a blessing for the Emerald Isle’s favorite veggie — the holy spud. And while you’re at it, give thanks for those crispy, fried, paper-thin rounds, America’s favorite snack, the potato chip.
Potatoes have been fried up for centuries, a staple in European as well as South American cultures, but the earliest written recipe for “crisps,” the English version of our potato chip, dates back to 1817, to a cookbook written by a British doctor and part-time chef, William Kitchiner. Obviously not a cardiologist, Kitchiner suggested frying thin, round shavings in lard or fat drippings.
You can thank George “Crum” Speck (or urban legend) for inventing the American version, originally referred to as “Saratoga chips.” Crum and his sister, “Aunt Kate,” worked as cooks for the Lake Moon House in Saratoga Springs, New York, until he opened his own restaurant, “Crum’s,” in nearby Malta.
Whether truth or tale, the story goes that a diner (some say Cornelius Vanderbilt) who visited the lake house’s popular restaurant in 1853 complained about his order of fried spuds. The discriminating guest sent the side back several times. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Striving for quality service, or maybe just aggravated at a picky customer, George fried and salted a batch of thinly sliced potatoes that, evidently, pleased the chap.
Crisps or chips. Call ’em what you will. William and Crum (in my opinion) were geniuses.
When I was a boy, a bag of plain Lay’s always sat next to our breadbox. Barbeque flavor was a special treat, but Sour Cream and Onion made for stinky breath. We were never fans of Ruffles. Probably the ridges. Pringles debuted in the late ’60s but I’m guessing they were too newfangled for my traditionalist mom. Tom’s Chips, still available, were an OK substitute. Tom’s, plus a pack of Nabs, made for a perfect snack for a day of hunting or fishing.
A childhood neighbor, who moved south from Michigan, had Charles Chips delivered to her home. She’d offer me a handful on a paper towel. Pretty good, tasted like Lay’s. And how cool to have chips delivered to your door, just like the Pine State Dairy guy brought milk. The company, named for Charles Street in Baltimore, where Effie Musser started the business out of her kitchen, packaged their chips in gold and brown tins and advertised “free delivery.” Mom loved her neighbor but thought chips in a tin coupled with the convenience of delivery was “too much.” The company ended home delivery in the ’70s, but Charles Chips are still sold in those iconic tins.
Potato chips are my go-to snack. Traditional with burgers and dogs but try them crumbled up in a peanut butter sandwich, on wheat bread, with a glass of milk. Heavenly.
Adulthood brought testing the boundaries outside Lay’s yellow and white bag. A New Orleans friend introduced me to Zapp’s. Packaged in Gramercy, Louisiana, Zapp’s kettle-fried chips are cooked in peanut oil, thick and crispy. Kettle-cooked chips differ from regular in cooking method but in the end, a kettle chip, though darker and more irregular in shape, is still a potato chip. Zapp’s first brand? A spicy Cajun version. If you’re a Zapp’s fan, Wedgies, a sandwich shop off Morganton Road in Southern Pines, carries them.
I didn’t give up Lay’s. Sour Cream and Onion or Barbeque rank as favorites, but Dill Pickle or Salt-N-Vinegar? Pass. And Lay’s, like other snack brands, ventured into boutique flavors like Kettle-Cooked Jalapeño and Simply Sea Salted. For the health-conscious, Lay’s offers Baked or Lightly Salted.
Current favorite? Carolina Kettle — flavorful, crispy kettle chips produced by 1 in 6 Snacks, a company in Raleigh, created by 2017 N.C. State grad Josh Monahan. The company’s name is rooted in America’s food insecurity: the fact that 1 in 6 people aren’t sure where they’ll find their next meal. Motivated to produce a quality product and address hunger, Josh donates to local food banks — 5 cents for every 2-ounce bag and 10 cents for every 5-ounce bag sold. Flavors include Outer Banks Sea Salt, Down East Carolina BBQ, Bee Sting Honey Sriracha, and Sir Walter Cream Cheese and Chive. I’m still noshing on bags my kids gave me for Christmas. Great chips fund a good cause. Buy them locally at Southern Whey in downtown Southern Pines.
So grab a bag of your chip of choice. Toast the day with a glass of milk or a bottle of Mountain Dew. St. Patrick’s Day always falls during Lent, a season when some of the faithful choose to give something up. I’ll pass on corned beef, Fridays or any day, but the good Lord knows, I do love my chips. PS
Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines.