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Entry from December 07, 2006
French Fried Potatoes (Paris, Texas myth)

Does anybody really believe that french fried potatoes (french fries) were really named for Paris, Texas? Well, how about the Texas Legislature in 2006, where a bill mentioning this was proposed?

One myth is added to another myth. At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas supposedly invented the “hamburger.” A New York Tribune reporter asked Davis about the french fried potatoes that people ate with his hamburgers, and Davis replied that he’d learned the method back in Paris (Texas). The reporter thought Davis has meant Paris, France, and the name “french fried potatoes” stuck, forever named after the wrong locality.

The problem with this is that “french frying” was a term used throughout the 1800s, and that “french fried potatoes” were well known by the late 1800s. “French,” as in France.

Somebody tell the Texas legislature.


Texas Legislature
80R583 MMS-D
By: Brown of Kaufman H.C.R. No. 15

CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
WHEREAS, Athens, Texas, boasts a strong claim to being the original home of one of the nation’s favorite foods, the hamburger; and

WHEREAS, Although accounts differ as to the origins of this American classic, the staff at McDonald’s management training center has traced its beginnings back to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, here it was sold by a vendor on the midway; a reporter for the New York, writing about the fair, made note of the new sandwich in an article and commented that it was the vendor’s own creation; and

WHEREAS, The vendor, Fletcher Davis, had moved from Missouri to Athens in the 1880s to take a job at the Miller pottery works; Mr. Davis had a flair for preparing food and usually served as chef
at his employer’s picnics; when the business slowed down in the late 1800s, he opened a lunch counter on the courthouse square, where he sold the sandwich that would become such a staple of the U.S. diet; and

WHEREAS, Although it was served with slices of fresh-baked bread instead of a bun, this early version of the hamburger was then much like it is today and contained ground beef, ground mustard
mixed with mayonnaise, a large slice of Bermuda onion, and sliced cucumber pickles; customers could also enjoy fried potatoes, served with a thick tomato sauce; when the journalist from the was
told that Mr. Davis had learned to fix potatoes in that manner from a friend in Paris, Texas, he misunderstood and described the item to his readers as french-fried potatoes; and

WHEREAS, According to a nephew of Mr. Davis’s, the new sandwich acquired its name during the potter’s sojourn in St. Louis; one theory holds that local residents of German descent may have named the sandwich after the city of Hamburg, whose citizens had a special affinity for ground meat; each June, residents of Athens celebrate the hamburger’s origins in their community with Uncle Fletch’s Burger and Bar-B-Q Cook-Off; and

WHEREAS, A century after the hamburger debuted on the national stage, it has become one of the best-loved foods in America; its economic impact is no less evident than its popularity: the immense volume of the burger business helps to drive the beef and grain industries and supports the employment of a substantial workforce; and

WHEREAS, The connection between Athens, Fletcher Davis, and the famed hamburger of the St. Louis World’s Fair has been well documented, and it is fitting that the town’s role in the history of that all-American sandwich be appropriately recognized; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 80th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby formally designate Athens, Texas, as the Original Home of the Hamburger.

Texas Escape
INVENTING THE HAMBURGER
by Bob Bowman
June 16-22, 2002
(...)
He was interviewed by a New York Tribune reporter who was intrigued by the hamburger and the fried potatoes he served with the sandwich at the World’s Fair. Fletcher told the reporter the sandwich was his idea, but said he learned to cook the potatoes that way from a friend in Paris, Texas. Apparently the reporter thought Fletcher meant Paris, France, and reported that the hamburger was served with wonderful “french-fried potatoes.”

The name stuck, and history has forever given the wrong Paris the credit for french fries.

Food History
Another story about the origins of the ubiquitous burger states that in the late 1800’s Fletcher Davis, a potter in Athens, Texas, wasn’t selling enough pottery. Therefore he opened a lunch counter. His specialty? A ground-beef patty served between slices of home-made bread. In 1904 Davis went to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, with his recipe, which was, of course, a big hit. At the Fair the ground beef sandwich was deemed the hamburger, because in Hamburg, Germany, ground beef patties were popular, though the patties there are more like meat loaf and lack a bun. (It is believed that 19th-century German sailors learned about eating raw shredded beef, “Steak Tartare,” in the Baltic Provinces. A German cook eventually had the idea of cooking the Tartare mixture.)

Fletcher Davis is also credited with serving fried potato strips at the World’s Fair. A friend in Paris, Texas, had given him the idea, but a reporter thought that Davis said “Paris, France,” and those potatoes are forevermore “French Fries.”

BBC: Hamburger in History
The most popular story of the hamburger is that of the 1904 St Louis World Fair. It is the belief of most Texans that the credit for the first hamburger goes to Fletch ‘Old Dave’ Davis from Athens, Texas, who decided to try something new for once. Taking raw hamburger steak, he grilled it to a crisp brown, and then sandwiched the patty between two thick slices of home-made toast and added a thick slice of raw onion on top. Patrons loved the new sandwich and word spread like wildfire, causing Old Dave to open a hamburger concession stand (at the urging of family and friends) at The Pike, at the St Louis World Fair Louisiana Purchase Exhibition that year. He is also credited as the inventor of french fries, selling fried potato strips along with his hamburgers at the world fair, an idea given to him by a friend in Paris, Texas. Unfortunately, the reporter covering the story mistook Old Dave’s friend’s homeland for Paris, France, and so the potato strips were henceforth known as ‘french fries’.

“French Fried” essay by Charles Ebeling
FRENCH FRIED: FROM MONTICELLO TO THE MOON
A Social, Political and Cultural Appreciation of the French Fry
By Charles Ebeling
Presented on October 31, 2005
(...)
At the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904, a potter from Athens, Texas named Fletcher Davis, who wasn’t selling enough pottery back home, opened a lunch counter. He served potato strips there, an idea from a friend back in Paris, Texas. But a reporter thought he’d said “Paris, France,” and thus another legend took root regarding the origin of the name. 

The Cook and Housewife’s Manual
by Mrs. Margaret Dods
The Third Edition
Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, and Bell and Bradfute
1828
Pg. 220: 
The French fry sliced potatoes in goose-dripping, (Pg. 221—ed.) which has a very high relish; and before serving, drain them on a towel before the fire.

Feeding America
Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook:
A Guide to Marketing and Cooking
by Maria Parloa
New York: C.T. Dillingham
1882 (c. 1880)
Pg. 241:
French Fried Potatoes.
Pare small uncooked potatoes. Divide them in halves, and each half in three pieces. Put in the frying basket and cook in boiling fat for ten minutes. Drain, and dredge with salt. Serve hot with chops or beefsteak. Two dozen pieces can be fried at one time.

Making of America
July 1892, The New England Magazine, pg. 666:
Serve with French fried potatoes and English Chutney sauce.

Making of America
November 1893, Harper’s Magazine, advertiser, pg. 35:
“I will get some this morning, and you may make rice croquettes and French fried potatoes, and fry them in it for dinner.”
(...)
Compared with lard, it reached the proper heat for frying much more quickly; the rice croquettes made for dinner did not absorb the grease, and took a more delicate color than usual; the French fried potatoes were simply perfect, and the remaining fat could easily be used several times, for with proper care it did not burn, and had no unpleasant odor or taste.

The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering
by Jessup Whitehead
Chicago: J. Whitehead
1893
Pg. 409, col. 1:
FRENCH FRIED POTATOES—Raw, cut in 12 or more strips
lengthwise, thrown into hot lard, fried light brown and dry, fine salt.

28 January 1895, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 6:
French Fried Potatoes.
Peel and cut your potatoes lengthways in small, narrow strips, and have about 1 pound of nice lard or drippings very hot and fry the potatoes brown. Don’t forget to put in salt. We like our potatoes fried and cut in this way much the best; try them.
Mrs. J. M., Chelsea.

12 March 1895, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 8:
French Fried Potatoes.
Pare as many potatoes as for a family of eight; put them in cold water for an hour before you fry them; then cut lengthwise about an inch thick; have fat very hot; let them brown; serve; do not let them get cold after they are cooked, or they will not be good; salt them as soon as cooked.
Rore L., Roxbury.

Feeding America
The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook
by Fannie Merritt Farmer
Boston: Little, Brown and Company
1896
Pg. 281:
French Fried Potatoes.
Wash and pare small potatoes, cut in eighths lengthwise, and soak one hour in cold water. Take from water, dry between towels, and fry in deep fat. Drain on brown paper and sprinkle with salt.

Care must be taken that fat is not too hot, as potatoes must be cooked as well as browned.

20 April 1903, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. 12:
“Hello, Rex M!” he called in that jolly good-natured style of his which he always affects just after he has filled his artificial stomach with porterhouse and French fries.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Thursday, December 07, 2006 • Permalink