The sandwich. Accident. Cobb Salad. Accident. Chocolate chip cookies. Accident. The first two were created to satisfy hunger when the kitchen was low on options and the patron both valued and demanding. The third was the result of an inspired ingredient substitution that gave birth to an irresistible treat.
These made it into culinary history books, engraving the names of their creators on the foodie hall of fame for eternity. They are, John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich (1762), Bob Cobb and his chef, Paul J. Posti (1937) and Ruth Graves Wakefield (1938).
Many food inventions have become cultural icons in the US. Just as many of their origins and inventors’ names remain obscure. Now and again, curiosity brings them out into the light. The next time you share some chips or corn puffs while watching a game, or stop by the corner store for a slushy, spice up the conversation with your knowledge of the origins and creators of these simple pleasures.
Moon’s Lake House, Saratoga Springs, New York. The French fries were a menu favorite, but one summer day in 1853 a guest kept sending the fries back to the kitchen, insisting that they were too thick and not cooked enough. Chef George Crum (born Speck), whose patience was beginning to wane, proceeded to slice a potato as thin as possible, fried it and sprinkled it with a generous amount of salt. He sent the dish out to the guest half-expecting to be reprimanded. Surprisingly, the guest loved the new dish and soon spread the word. Others soon requested the crunchy potato slices and “Saratoga Chips” were born.
Beloit, Wisconsin. 1930’s. The Flakall Company produced feed for livestock. To this end, special machines were used to crush grain. Corn kernels were fed through these daily to unclog and clean them between uses. As they passed through, the heat caused them to swell into short ribbon-like strips that fell to the floor. An observant and forward-thinking employee named Edward Wilson reasoned that these might be edible. He experimented with a few spices and, well, corn puffs were born. The Flakall company soon expanded its line to animal feed and “Korn Kurls.”
Kansas City, 1950’s. Dairy Queen franchise. You could not go to the Dairy Queen and not enjoy a tall, ice-cold soda right out of the fountain. But what does one do when the customers line up and the fountain machine is on the fritz? Owner Omar Knedlik needed a quick solution, so he stored the sodas in the freezer for a short while. But he and his crew soon got sidetracked with customer service and the sodas nearly froze. He served them nonetheless, with an apology. To his surprise, the customers delighted in the partially frozen beverages and wanted more. Knedlik designed and built a new machine to produce the new soda on demand. 300 companies had purchased it by 1965.