Crisp, crunch, snap, munch.
Pardon me while I lick the salt off my fingers.
Mmmmmmmm, potato chips!
We all love them, but who actually invented them?
Some say it was George Crum, a Saratoga Springs chef working at Moon’s Lake House in 1853. In Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament (Kids Can Press, 2017), author Anne Renaud and illustrator Felicita Sala serve up a taste-bud-tempting tater tale showing how Crum’s culinary clash with a picky patron accidentally led to the creation of the first c-r-i-s-p-y chip. 🙂
The story you are about to savor is a fictional tale with a helping of truth.
With those appetizing words, we meet George Crum, busy in his kitchen.
He fricasséed and flambéed, boiled and braised, poached and puréed. He made sorbets and soufflés, stews and succotashes, ragouts and goulashes.
Make no spuds about it, George loved what he did and he was really good at it. He had his own restaurant, Crum’s Place, where he and his plum-cheeked waitress Gladys kept customers happy devouring his choice concoctions.
George was considered to be the best cook in the county — until one fateful day, when a certain Filbert P. Horsefeathers walked in and ordered a “heaping helping of potatoes.”
Filbert was “peculiar-looking,” and with a middle name like “Punctilious,” George and Gladys should have known they were in for a challenge.
But George was pretty confident his potato wedges would please the punctilious one. Why wouldn’t they? Everyone else loved them.
Well, there’s a first time for everything. Filbert pooh-poohed George’s potatoes and sent them back because they were “too thick.”
No customer had ever refused George’s cooking before.
Undaunted, George simply prepared a platter of thinner wedges for Mr. Horsefeathers, who took a “teeny, tiny nibble” before proclaiming them still too thick and (*gulp*) “bland as burlap.”
But George was a pro and determined to please fussy Filbert no matter what. This time, even thinner wedges with extra salt.
Alas and alack. Filbert took a “bean-sized bite” before rejecting the third batch. Not only were they bland, but undercooked. Gladys couldn’t help but “tut-tut” and “tsk-tsk,” because dem’s fighting words.
George was beside himself. How could anyone not like his scrumptious, succulent, sublime potatoes? Rather than let frustration get the better of him, prankster George decided to face off finicky Filbert with fun. He took a sharp knife and shaved “the thinnest, slimmest, and trimmest” slices he could from a potato. He fried those rascals till they were crisp and crackly, and then “showered them with salt.”
Oh, the suspense as they watched how Filbert would react!
After a splinter, a crack, and a snap, Filbert popped one in his mouth and . . . proclaimed them to be PERFECTION!
Then he “gobbled up every last morsel.”
Gladys and George were stunned and had to taste some for themselves. They loved them too, so George decided to put a plateful of Crum’s Crisp Crispies on every table from then on.
Renaud’s narrative is rollicking good fun to read aloud as it’s laced with loads of crunchy, feel-good-in-the-mouth alliterative phrases and perky expressions, like Gladys’s exclamations “huckleberry biscuits!” and “flying flapjacks!” After Gladys tastes the potato crisps for the first time, she says her “taste buds are tap dancing.” Can’t beat that kind of colorful enthusiasm.
And who doesn’t love saying “prickly porcupine pie”?
Kids will also “drool” over George’s exotic menu: “Stewed Skunk in Sassafras Sauce, Pickled Possum Pancakes, and Grilled Groundhog en Croûte.” I can already hear the collective “ewwwww.” 😀
Felicita Sala’s colored pencil and watercolor illustrations are exquisitely delicious and delightful. Love how she’s populated the pages with a diverse cast of characters dressed in period garb ( I do have a weakness for waistcoats, mustaches, and derby hats). She’s depicted Filbert P. Horsefeathers as appropriately persnickety with his purple polka-dotted cravat and sunflower on his lapel. The close-ups of him tasting the potatoes pull the reader right into the action as we anxiously await Filbert’s reactions.
Each page turn is chock full of fetching details, from George’s kitchen stocked with pots, pans, cooking utensils and pantry supplies, to the dining room with its plates and bowls of scrumptious eats.
By now you may be wondering how much of this story is actually true. Renaud’s Author’s Note confirms that George Crum, who was of Native American and African American descent, was indeed a real person and a fine cook, but that the story of him dealing with a picky customer is the stuff of popular legend. She cites several cookbooks with recipes for wafer-thin fried potatoes published before 1853, so there really is no way of knowing just who made the first “potato chips.”
It is true that George once owned his own restaurant and also cooked at Moon’s Lake House, where crisp potatoes were a customer favorite. Safe to say, he’s one of the cooks from the region who helped develop and popularize “Saratoga Chips,” as addictive then as they are now.
Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament is a fun way for kids to see how a little ingenuity and a happy accident can have delicious results. With its toothsome vocabulary, lively pace, and fetching illustrations, the book will have them clamoring for repeated readings and more more more potato chips. 🙂
MR. CRUM’S POTATO PREDICAMENT
written by Anne Renaud
illustrated by Felicita Sala
published by Kids Can Press, September 2017
Historical Fiction Picture Book for ages 5+, 40 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note (with photos) and List of Sources
📘 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📗
So, what is your favorite kind of potato chip?
Tell us in a comment here for a chance to win a copy of Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament, no later than midnight (EST) Tuesday, March 13, 2018. You may also enter the giveaway by sending an email with POTATO CHIPS in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
NOTE: An entire bag of Kettle potato chips was consumed while writing this post. This enormous sacrifice was gladly made on your behalf. Tough work, but somebody’s gotta do it. 😀
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. If you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup will receive a small referral fee (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for your support.
**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.