Today is National French Fry Day. While no one knows who began this celebration, placing it on July 13 is significant because the important French holiday is the next day, July 14, for Bastille Day.
Origin of French Fries
Some French people might call the delectable potato confection Belgian Fries, and there is evidence that, in fact, they may have originated there.
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 more likely 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.
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 handling this a hot potato.
The French Angle on French Fries and Potatoes
The Spanish conquistadors brought the potato back to Europe from the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru in the early 15th century. But it didn’t catch on in Spain. It was popularly thought that the potato greens were poisonous, potatoes belonged to the same toxic family as the deadly nightshade, and many thought that eating them caused leprosy. It wasn’t mentioned as a food in the Bible, which made it suspect. Instead, it was fed to farm animals.
But Frederick the Great of Prussia promoted the cultivation of potatoes to combat famine. During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), the Prussians captured a French Army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. He ate potatoes for the first time during his lengthy captivity, and his health thrived. He returned to France after the war with a mission to convince the French to add potatoes to their diet. In 1772 the Academy of Besancon awarded him 1st prize for “the study of food substances that could mitigate the calamities of famine.”