- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Sure, we’re grateful to our Founding Fathers for the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July vacation day it created for us. This year, we have another American-made event to celebrate: the 150th birthday of potato chips.

In their honor, we’re duty-bound to whip up some history and a few snack recipes. Or at least open a bag or two.

It’s the perfect time. July Fourth is one of the top four potato-chip-consuming holidays of the year, along with Labor Day, Super Bowl Sunday and New Year’s Eve. No one seems to know why Memorial Day doesn’t rate. Maybe we’re still holding illusions about trying to look thin in our swimsuits.

Don’t bother with a card, but you might be interested in a little chip history. It’s all the better to celebrate the best of American courage and creativity — and contrariness, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The potato chip was invented by George Crum, an American Indian (or black, by some accounts) chef at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

In the mid-1800s, Saratoga Springs was a resort frequented by the rich and famous, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, and fried potatoes were a popular food, having been brought back from France by Thomas Jefferson in the 1700s.

In one version of the potato chip story, Vanderbilt complained that Crum’s fried potatoes were too thick and not crunchy enough. Other versions aren’t so clear about who complained, but in response to criticism of his cooking, Crum, having something of a temper, sliced some potatoes much thinner than usual and fried them until they were hard. Alas, his revenge was not immediately satisfying (although potato chip fame later helped propel him into his own restaurant). The customer loved the crisp and salty invention, and the potato chip was born.

For a long time, the potato chip remained restaurant fare because its fragile and perishable nature made it difficult to distribute. Finally, though, it was packaged and sold in New England as Saratoga chips, and, chip by chip, it began to seep into culinary channels.

In the 1920s, salesman Herman Lay used his Model A as a delivery truck to distribute potato chips made in Atlanta, but freshness and fragility continued to make distribution an issue. In 1926, Laura Scudder, whose family owned a potato chip factory in Monterey Park, Calif., invented a waxed paper container to keep the chips fresh, crunchy and somewhat protected by the air cushion trapped inside, and the modern bag of potato chips was born.

U.S. retail sales of potato chips are more than $6 billion a year, and Americans consume more potato chips than any other people in the world. The folks in the East Central United States — Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia — eat the most, according to the Snack Food Association, the industry group that tracks sales and trends. Pacific-region residents — in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, Alaska and Arizona — consume the least.

An ounce of chips has about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat — the same amount of fat as 2 pats of butter. The good news, however, is that there is no cholesterol. An ounce of reduced-fat chips has a little less, about 140 calories and 7 grams of fat. Baked chips (1 ounce) have 120 calories and just 3 grams of fat.

Potato chips made with the fat substitute olestra don’t have any fat and have just about 75 calories per ounce, but they have fallen out of favor, given either real or imagined digestive symptoms associated with them and a U.S. Food and Drug Administration message printed on each bag warning that the olestra could cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea. This is not particularly appetizing, even for those dieting and desperate.

Don’t think about fat when you eat potato chips. Just eat them occasionally, as you would any other product that may be better for your psyche than your body.

Enough of this depressing talk. To celebrate the potato chip’s birthday, the U.S. Potato Board has posted a trivia quiz on its Web site, www.potatohelp.com/chips. The winner gets a big bag of chips. Or you can travel the world sampling potato chips in a whole bunch of flavors.

Because they don’t travel well, potato chips may be among the few foods left that still retain distinctive regional styles and aren’t produced cookie-cutter-style around the globe.

Among the notable:

• Dill-pickle-flavor chips and cheeseburger chips from Golden Flake Snack Foods in Birmingham, Ala.

• Steak-and-onion chips from Poore Bros. of Arizona.

• Spicy Chesapeake Bay crab chips from Snyder’s of Hanover.

• Sour-cream-and-clam from Humpty Dumpty in Canada.

• Ketchup chips from Wachusett in Massachusetts.

• Roast-chicken chips from Walkers of Texas.

• Roast-beef-and mustard chips from Brannigans in England.

• Seaweed-flavored chips from Calbee Foods in Asia.

When Consumer Reports magazine tasters sampled plain chips in 2001, they ranked Utz Ripples as No. 1 in overall quality. (“Ridged chips. Clean-oil flavor with no off notes.”) From the East Coast, Wise chips came in second. (“More tender than most. Potato-skin and earthy flavors.”) For barbecued chips, they picked Lay’s KC Masterpiece Barbecue Flavor as best. (“Sweet-spice flavors; spices seem fresh. Complex flavor.”) It was closely followed in ranking by Wise Bar-B-Q chips. (“Slight black-pepper, curry-like flavors. Spices seem fresh. Complex flavor. Slight heat.”) Frankly, though, the tasters seemed pretty impressed with most. Maybe that’s part of potato chip charm. It’s difficult to make a bad chip, and if one is bad, we can smother it in dip.

For updates on potato chip birthday party celebrations around the United States, check out the Snack Food Association Web site, www.sfa.org/potato150.html. And don’t forget to try a few of the recipes that follow on your July Fourth celebration. It’s practically patriotic.

Veggie chips

2 pounds trimmed root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, taro root, turnips and yucca root

Safflower or sunflower oil

Coarse salt

Peel vegetables, if necessary, and slice thin. Fill a deep-fat fryer or deep, heavy pot with several inches of oil. (Oil should not come more than halfway up side of fryer or pot.) Heat oil to 375 degrees.

Fry each vegetable separately in small batches, turning slices often with slotted spoon, until crisp. For potatoes and carrots, about 2 minutes; for beets, 2 to 3 minutes; for rutabagas, sweet potatoes, taro root and yucca root, 1 to 1 minutes; for turnips about 1 minutes; and for Jerusalem artichokes 1 to 2 minutes.

Transfer fried chips with slotted spoon to paper towels and drain thoroughly. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm or let cool completely and store in airtight container. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Layers of dip

3 cups guacamole, divided

1 cups shredded Jack cheese, divided

2 cups sour cream, divided

1 cup chunky salsa, divided

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

cup sliced ripe olives

Spread 1 cup guacamole in bottom of shallow 10-inch glass or plastic bowl. Top with 1 cup Jack cheese. Spread 1 cup sour cream over cheese. Cover with 1 cup guacamole. Sprinkle with half of salsa and then all of cheddar cheese. Top with remaining salsa, 1 cup guacamole, 1 cup sour cream and cup Jack cheese. Sprinkle with olives. Makes 10 to 12 servings as an appetizer with chips.

Potato chip chicken

Try this using barbecue potato chips.

2 pounds chicken breast tenderloins

1 16-ounce container of sour cream

1 15- to 20-ounce bag regular salted potato chips, crushed

Oil for greasing cookie sheet

cup (1 stick) butter

1 tablespoon garlic powder or granulated garlic

Salsa, optional

Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels. Pour sour cream into medium bowl. Pour crushed potato chips into flat pan. Dredge chicken pieces in sour cream, then in potato chips. Oil 2 to 3 cookie sheets and place coated chicken on them. Bake chicken 5 minutes in 450-degree oven, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake an additional 12 minutes.

While chicken is baking, melt butter and stir in garlic powder or granulated garlic.

After chicken has cooked, remove from oven and turn up oven heat to 450 degrees. With a spoon, drizzle garlic butter over each piece of chicken and then bake for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, or until chicken is golden. Serve with salsa, if desired.

Makes 10 to 12 servings as an entree; 20 as an appetizer.

Feta and dill dip

1 cup feta cheese chunks

1 8-ounce container sour cream

2 teaspoons dried dill weed

In food processor or blender, combine feta cheese with sour cream and dill weed. Mix to blend. Serve as a dip with chips or vegetables.

Makes about 1 cups.

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