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The OG George Crum

By: Professor Mint 

February 11, 2020

Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. If you don't love potatoes, well, just know that I am most definitely judging you. Everything great in this world comes from this humble root vegetable. My favorite Korean side dish, Algamja Jorim (알감자조림), potato bread, potato skins, mashed potatoes, potato pancakes, potato salad, au gratin, gnocchi, french fries, and one of the most consumed snacks in the US, potato chips. Potato chips come in all shapes, sizes, thicknesses, textures, and flavors, but where do they come from? Well, William Kitchiner, is known for the earliest recipe for crisps, in his cookbook that came out in 1822. However, in honor of black history, I wanted to find someone remarkable to write my very first blog post on. Guess who I happened to stumble upon? Mr. George Crum, along with his sister Catherine Wicks, who are known as the creators of America's first kettle chip. Wild right? I swear there aren't any coincidences in life, just providence. I really enjoyed learning about this person, who I've honestly never even heard of before, until now. While I could've chosen anyone, or even someone more well known, to write about, how could I not write about someone responsible for one of my favorite snacks.


Born as George Speck, in 1822-8 (I couldn't quite find a consistent year for his birth), was born to a mulatto jockey, and a Stockbridge Indian woman. While his heritage is a bit uncertain, he is at least known to be Afro Native American, and he identified as a member of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe. Later in life, he adopted the nickname "Crum." I found two origins of this nickname and how it came to be. Some say that he adopted Crum, because it was the name his father used during his jockey career. However, another source states that the nickname may have came from a frequent customer, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Apparently, he could never remember Speck's actual name, and once told the waiter to ask "Crum how long before we shall eat?" Instead of taking offense to him not remembering his name, he viewed it positively, embraced the new nickname, and figured that "a crum is bigger than a speck."

Despite being a colored man, in a time period where people of color barely had human rights, he made a name for himself as an American chef. He originally worked as a hunter, guide, and cook in the Adirondack mountains, but honed his craft at the upscale restaurant, Moon's Lake House, near Saratoga Springs, New York. It was here that he was hired as the chef, along with his sister Catherine "Kate" Wicks. The restaurant was noted to be quite expensive, and served the wealthy families from Manhattan. He loved experimenting in the kitchen, but his specialty included wild game, especially duck and venison. I've found a few photos of Crum, while doing my research, and by a few, I literally mean 4 lol. In each photo, he looks so different that I'm actually shocked that it's the same person. Maybe they aren't? I guess we'll never truly know lol. Case and point this second photo here, where he looks more Native American than African American. It's always interesting how the face changes as we age isn't it?

Do you want to know what's even more amazing about this guy? He opened his own restaurant, in 1860, in Saratoga Springs, on Malta Avenue near Saratoga Lake. Which is absolutely wild to me, since slavery wasn't officially abolished in the US, until 1865. However, not only did he own his own restaurant, but in just a few years, he started serving all types of wealthy patrons including, Henry Hilton, Cornelius and William Vanderbilt, and Jay Gould. Of course, every patron always received a basket of his famous Saratoga chips on their table. He marketed them as "Take-out" boxes and as the "Original Saratoga Chips." However, he never patented or protected his creation, so it became mass produced, without giving any credit to the original creators, as per usual. So how did these chips actually come to be?

The story behind Crum's famous kettle chip is a bit hazy, and I've come across two origin stories during my research. The Saratoga chip company said that one day, a particularly difficult customer came into Moon's and ordered fried potatoes, their specialty at the time. He complained that they were cut too thick and soggy, and sent them back requesting them to be cut thinner. Upon receiving his second order, he complained that they were still cut too thickly! Upset by the customer's criticism of his cooking, he decided to cut the potatoes paper thin, deep fried them until they were too hard to eat with a fork, and heavily salted them. He did this in an attempt to make them inedible in order to teach the wealthy patron a lesson, as an act of revenge. However, the patron loved them and requested a second batch, which resulted in other customers ordering them. Soon, they became a Moon's specialty. However, this story hasn't been verified, and Crum himself didn't even mention the invention of these chips that were attributed to him in his biography, and it wasn't in his obituary either. In fact, when his sister Kate died. at the ripe age of 102, she claimed that the Saratoga chip was indeed her creation. She explained that she sliced a piece of potato smaller than intended, and it fell into a pan of hot oil. She gave it to her brother to try, and with his enthusiasm and approval, the chips started being served. The latter seems more plausible, however, I do love a good tale of revenge as much as the next person lol. Shoot, I can't even blame him, can you? Because I'd definitely be saltier than a potato chip if someone criticized my cooking too lol.

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