Today is National French Fry Day. While no one knows who began this celebration, placing in on July 13 is significant in that the most important French holiday is the next day, July 14 for Bastille Day.
Some French people might call the delectable potato confection Belgian Fries, and there is evidence that they may have originated there. However, due to the last year’s defeat of the Belgians to the French at the World Cup games, I cannot find any French people who will give any credit to the Belgians on these historical facts. A Belgian journalist claims that a 1781 family manuscript tells of deep-fried potatoes in the Spanish-Netherlands (now Belgium) before the 1680s. The fact that potatoes did not arrive in that area until around 1735 makes this a hot potato. Eating potatoes for food was popularized in France by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who wore potato blossoms in their buttonholes and hair.
Potatoes are not native to Europe, but came from the New World, when Spanish conquistadors brought them back from Peru. This is why J.R.R. Tolkien, at the suggestion of his careful readers, removed them from more mid-60s versions of his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books, but the movies did not.
One story is that the phrase “French Fried Potatoes” first appeared in English in 1856 in the cookbook Cookery for Maids of All Work by E. Warren. Another story is that they were first called “French Fries” by American soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War I. After first tasting them, the Yanks called them “French” fries as it was the official language of their fellow Belgian soldiers.
What’s In a Name
- French: frites from pommes frites, or “potato fries” but everyone called them frites or “fries”
- Belgian: “Belgian fries” though to distinguish them, they are often twice fried. The first bath is called blanching
- England: “Chips” as in “fish and chips.” Sometimes more thickly cut
- India: finger chips
- Ketchup: the most popular dipping sauce in the U.S.
- Ranch Dressing: surprisingly, the second most popular in the U.S.
- Mayonnaise: a favorite in continental Europe
- Dijon Mustard: for the last 40 years, a popular sauce in France
- Aioli: another French favorite, drizzled upon the potato delicacies
- Vinegar: especially malt vinegar, is most favored in England and the Commonwealth
Between the time he worked on the Declaration of Independence, and when he became the Second President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson spent time in Paris as the Minister to France (1785–1789.) During one White House dinner in 1802, he served “potatoes served in the French manner.”
How should one observe this holiday? A trip to the most popular American purveyors of this delicacy would include McDonald’s, Chic-fil-A, or Burger King. Or Carl’s Jr, Five Guys, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Steak N Shake, Shake Shack, Jack in the Box, Sonic, KFC, In-N-Out.
Here’s how the Los Angeles Times food columnist Lucas Kwan Peterson ranked America’s fries in a manner that he called “the authoritative, totally not subjective, incontrovertibly definitive and 100% correct” way:
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian