The History of French Fries

The French Fry, like everything else, has a history. But many histories are hard to trace. Such is the case with the French Fry. We have, however, gleaned a few bits of information, and will update this as often as we obtain further information.

French Fries, at least in the US, seem to have been first named "Potatoes, fried in the French Manner," which is how Thomas Jefferson described a dish he brought over to the colonies in the late 1700s. Presumably, he brought over the method, and not an actual plate or two, as they would have become rather soggy and possibly rancid on the 5- to 8-week Atlantic crossing. He served this to guests at Monticello and it became popular, serious dinner fare.

The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (OED), normally a wonderful research tool, was of little help. Under the heading "French Fries" there is nothing but a reference to the heading, "Chips," which is what the British call French Fries (see International French Fries for more on this). The OED makes first mention of them in an 1857 quote from Dickens about a plate of potato sticks cooked in oil. Big help. There are also a couple of references to the late 1800s and some quote from an American magazine from the 1950s, but these are of little value to the French Fry historian, other than a possible etymological study.

It is interesting to note that the French Fry was the precursor to the potato chip. According to "The Interesting History of Ordinary Items," in 1853, American Indian George Crum was the chef at Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York. Some guest started complaining that the fries were too thick, so Crum made a thinner batch. Still no good. Crum got fed up and made ultra-thin fries which couldn't be picked up with a fork (which was the custom then) and would break if one tried to. It didn't work. Not only did the guest love 'em, so did everyone else. Not one to dwell on a failure, Crum gave in and made them regularly. They were on the lodge's menu as Saratoga chips. Crum opened up his own place and specialised in the fries-gone-wrong.

Enough about potato chips; we are interested in French Fries, and more will be revealed as it is found.

Back to the Official French Fry Page


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