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~A Brief History of Potatoes & French Fries in France~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3816da6200dIf I told you that potatoes were once illegal to eat in France, would you believe me? It's true and I admit to gasping when I learned this.  Where would be be without French fries in our food world? The absolute best French fries I have ever eaten are at places like church festivals, county fares and carnivals.  They're not too thick, not too thin, twice-fried, and, never frozen.  When you stand in line and wait for these fries to to come seething-hot out of the deep-fryer, get a quick drain, a sprinkling of salt and handed-off to you in a paper cone, you just know these French fries are going to be awesome.  They are the ideal American French fry.  Ever wondered why?

The best French fries in the USA are in fact Belgian fries.

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf431d0970cA bit about French fries:  It may come as a surprise to you to find out that "pommes frites", meaning "fried potatoes" in French, were not invented by the French, even though, like many other foodie pleasures, the French played a part in making them famous here in the United States.  In 1802, my favorite founding foodie, Thomas Jefferson, after a trip to France, served "potatoes in the style of the French", at a White House dinner party.  All hell broke loose after that, and, as the story goes, before long, these golden strips of glorious goodness were nicknamed:  French fries.

Interesting side note:  Culinarily, the words "to French" mean "to cut food into long thin strips". In French, the word "frite" indicates "to deep-fry", and, my research shows they were serving fried potato strips in the White House, but no one can confirm they were deep-fried.  Click on the photo at the left to read a Historical Note from the book Dining at Monticello.

The story behind "The French Connection" to fries in the USA:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a13a15200bIn 1756, war broke out between France and Great Britain.  During The Seven Years War, as it is called, a medical officer by the name of Antoine-Augustine Parmentier was given nothing but potatoes to eat in a prisoner-of-war camp.  In 1748, potatoes were banned by the French government because it was believed they caused leprosy and death (the birth of government regulation, which is fine by me).

Because he did not die, after the war, Parmentier spent the better part of his life changing the minds of government officials regarding potatoes, and, in 1772, potatoes were declared edible for humans and it was made legal to cultivate them. Parmentier began hosting dinner parties and serving potatoes to dignitaries like King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and, our very own Benjamin Franklin, BUT, there is no documentation to confirm they were deep-fried either. Potatoes soon became very trendy in French social circles, which is where Thomas Jefferson tasted them and the rest is American history.  Long live the beloved potato.

If they're Belgian, how did the French find out about them?

6a0120a8551282970b017c32c5b74b970bIn 1742, The Franco-Austrian War, known as The War of Austrian Succession was going on, and, much of it took place in and around modern day Belgium.  It is believed that the French soldiers were introduced to "les frites" (Belgian fries) by French speaking Belgians and Belgian soldiers.  A couple of decades later, when potatoes were declared edible in France, this was the cooking method the French imitated. This is the explanation that I believe gives Belgians the right to claim the title of: Inventors of French fries.  Why?

The French were not a frying culture prior to this period in history, the Belgians were.

Moreover, a Belgian journalist named Jo Gerard claims that potatoes were fried as early as 1690 in the Meuse valley of the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), and, it was the Spanish who introduced the potato to Europe.  Gerard writes, "the inhabitants, especially the poor people, of Dinant and Liege had the custom of fishing in the Meuse river for small fish to fry. When the river was frozen, they would cut potatoes in the form of strips and fried them."  That being said, experts concur that those fries were most likely not deep-fried, because the quantity of fat necessary for deep-frying would have been almost impossible for the peasants to get.

Who REALLY invented twice-fried strips of potatoes?

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a13a4e200bDid the Belgians invent real-deal, deep-fried, twice-fried fries, or, did the French invent the twice-fried technique and teach it to them? No one knows for sure, but, when it comes to food, the French are known for perfecting everything, so I'm not ruling this theory out.  That being said, nowadays, Belgians consume more fries than any country in Europe... with mayonnaise or flavored mayonnaise being their topping of choice (I'll have mine with garlicky, rich, smooth, classic aioli).  

Modern-day Belgians will be quick tell you that after WWI, American soldiers were served fries by Belgians who, once again, coincidentally, all spoke French.

It was these American veterans who named the potatoes French fries. This is probably true, but, because of the "fry" history preceding WWI (mentioned above), it's not how we Americans came to name them French fries.  It does, however, explain the post war boom in the marketing of French fries across the United States.  Always remember:  French fries are not fried potatoes, they are twice-fried potatoes.

French Fries aren't fried potatoes -- they're twice-fried potatoes:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3816da6200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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