George Crum (born George Speck; (c. 1828 – July 22, 1914) was a mixed-race African/Native American trapper and guide in the Adirondacks, who became renowned for his culinary skills after becoming a cook and restaurant owner in Saratoga Springs, New York. By 1860 he owned Crum's House, a popular lakeside restaurant in nearby Malta.
By the early 20th century, Crum was credited in some popular accounts as having developed potato chips.
He was born George Speck in Malta, New York, south of Saratoga Springs; his mother was a Native American Huron and his father was African American, who worked as a jockey. When he got older, George Speck adopted his father's racing surname, "Crum". George had a sister Katie. Learning the area as a child, George Crum later worked as a trapper and an Adirondack hunting guide.
Like many other area residents, Crum worked at the Adirondack resorts, where he discovered his culinary skills. He became a cook at Cary Moon's Lake House in Saratoga, noted as an expensive restaurant at a time when wealthy families from Manhattan and other areas were building summer "camps" in the area. Crum became known for his skills as a chef.
In 1860 Crum opened his own lakeside restaurant Crum's House in Malta; according to popular accounts, he used profits made selling his chips, and was said to include a basket of chips on every table.
Crum was reportedly married five times, and his wives, children and extended family were known to work at his restaurant. After his death, he was buried in Malta Ridge Cemetery in Malta under his birth name George Speck.
Potato chip legend
Decades before Crum became a chef versions of fried potato slices were published in several cookbooks. In 1832, a recipe for fried potato "shavings" was included in a United States cookbook derived from an earlier English collection. Sliced potatoes cooked in hot oil and served with salt was a common dish before Crum's time. William Kitchiner's The Cook's Oracle (1822), also included techniques for such a dish. Similarly, N.K.M. Lee's cookbook, The Cook's Own Book (1832), has a recipe that is very similar to Kitchiner's. In later years, the popular Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping (1877) by Estelle Woods Wilcox, who was based in Indiana, was sold nationally and included a recipe for similar chips.
The New York Tribune did a feature article on "Crum's: The Famous Eating House on Saratoga Lake" in December 1891, but mentioned nothing about potato chips. Neither did Crum's commissioned biography, published in 1893, nor did one 1914 obituary in a local paper. However, another obituary states "Crum is said to have been the actual inventor of "Saratoga chips."" At one time, stories circulated that Crum's sister, Katie Speck Wicks, or Moon's wife Harriet was responsible for the dish, but Bradley explicitly rejected these versions in his 1940 history of Saratoga.
The story about Crum and the potato chips became more widely known after the 1930s, and is featured in a 1940 history of Saratoga by Hugh Bradley. Fox and Banner said that Bradley had cited an 1885 article in the Hotel Gazette about Crum and the potato chips. But, the version featuring Crum and his famous customer, identified in a 1973 version as the prominent railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, was created by advertising agencies for a national snack food association.
Crum's purported invention of potato chips became most firmly set after a 1973 advertising campaign by the St. Regis Paper Company, which manufactured packaging for chips. A large ad featuring Crum and his "story" was published in the national magazines, Fortune and Time. It was in the latter 1970s that the variant of the story featuring Vanderbilt became popular because of the interest in his wealth and name, and evidence suggests the source was advertising agencies for the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association.
According to a 1983 article in Western Folklore, in several popular culture versions, potato chips were said to have originated in Saratoga Springs, New York. A popular variant featuring Crum said that a customer complained that his french fries were too thick, so the chef kept slicing them thinner, then fried them to a crisp, and seasoned them heavily with salt. He expected the customer to dislike them, but the man praised them highly. The chips became popular and subsequently known as "Saratoga chips" or "potato crunches". Whilst he was important in popularizing them early references exist in the UK and US. For exampleWilliam Kitchiner M.D. (1775–1827) was well known during the early 19th century, and his Cook’s Oracle was a bestseller in England and the USA The full title of the book was Apicius Redivivus, or the Cook's Oracle. It includes a recipe for Potato Chips or 'Crisps' : “peel large potatoes... cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.” This is some decades before chef George Crum in NY.
The 21st-century Snopes website writes that Crum's customer, if he existed, was more likely an obscure one. An early source for the story identifies Vanderbilt as a regular customer of Crum's, but says nothing about his role in the potato chips.[page needed][page needed]
- Hugh Bradley, Such Was Saratoga, New York: 1940
- Chuck D'Imperio, Great Graves of Upstate New York, iUniverse, 2009, pp. 87-89
- Inventor of the Week: George Crum", MIT, 2006, accessed 20 June 2013
- William S. Fox and Mae G. Banner, Topics and Comments: "Social and Economic Contexts of Folklore Variants: The Case of Potato Chip Legends", Western Folklore (Western States Folklore Society), Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 114-126, accessed 20 June 2013
- "Civil War Recipes and Food History - The Potato During the Civil War" , Civil War Interactive website
- Kitchiner, Dr. William, 1822. The Cook’s Oracle; Containing Receipts for Plain Cookery, on the Most Economical Plan for Private Families: Also the Art of Composing the Most Simple and Most Highly Finished Broths, Gravies, Soups, Sauces, Store Sauces, and Flavouring Essences; the Quantity of each Article is Accurately Stated by Weight and Measure; the Whole Being the Result of Actual Experiments Instituted in the Kitchen of a Physician, 4th ed. A. Constable and Co. of Edinburgh and London, 464 pp. (See p. 208 for potato chip recipe. This is identified as the first American edition.)
- Lee, N.K.M. (A Boston Housekeeper), 1832. The Cook's Own Book: Being A Complete Culinary Encyclopedia: Comprehending All Valuable Receipts For Cooking Meat, Fish, And Fowl, And Composing Every Kind Of Soup, Gravy, Pastry, Preserves, Essences, &c. That Have Been Published Or Invented During The Last Twenty Years. Particularly The Very Best Of Those In The Cook's Oracle, Cook's Dictionary, And Other Systems Of Domestic Economy.Diamond Mb With Numerous Original Receipts, And a Complete System of Confectionery, Boston: Munroe and Francis; New York: Charles E. Francis and David Felt.
- "George Crum Dies at Saratoga Lake", The (Saratoga Springs) Saratogian, 27 July 1914
- "Famous Hunter Guide and Cook Dies at 96 Years". unknown (clipping only).
- "Origin of Potato Chips", Snopes
- "Early Lake Houses Saratoga, New York", from Reminiscences of Saratoga, compiled by Cornelius E. Durkee, reprinted by The Saratogian 1927-28
- Burhans, Dirk, 2008. Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, Madison, WI: Terrace Books (Univ. of Wisconsin Press), pp. 15-21.