Weird Fry Facts for National French Fry Day

Consider the french fry: is it mankind’s greatest invention? Well, that depends. Is it cold? Because dude, cold fries are the worst. But! If it’s still piping hot, crispy outside, moist and soft inside, not mealy, or bendy…ooh, brother, that is definitely a contender for the best thing we’ve ever created. Sure, there are vaccines out there, but for all the lives they save, they create very few french fries (unless they innoculate a fry cook). So plainly the french fry is superior to vaccines from the “Number of fries produced” metric.

In honor of National French Fry Day on Sunday, here are some facts about french fries that are even weirder than that intro: 

French fries aren’t French, They’re Belgian. Or Spanish. Or Dutch. Or French?

Way back in a time called 2003, a bunch of jingoistic Americans decided to stop using the word French, because France wouldn’t help us steamroll Iraq, and I forget the rest of their reasoning but it was something like: “Wahhhhhh!” Crybaby behavior aside, it led to some hilarious efforts at rebranding by companies like French’s mustard trying to explain the origin of their name without outright admitting they were worried abotu losing the coveted “petty racist” segment of their market.

The funniest of all was the production of Freedom Fries, a Congressional menu item that no doubt cost taxpayers a ludicrous amount of money, because technically, it was the most Congress had accomplished in several years–and we all know that only happens when too much cash is spent. And one of the two idiots responsible for wasting everyone’s time with this NewSpeak soon went to prison on corruption charges. So that old Onion sketch wasn’t far from the truth at all:

Obviously this rebranding made America look like a horse’s patoot, but the name change was even more ludicrous than it seems because, we were reminded, the “french” in french fries is lowercase for a reason: it refers not to the nation but “frenching.” Frenching is a culinary technique which is less sexy than it sounds, because it involves slicing food into–well, french fry shape. Although it does include knife play, so I guess it’s sexy after all.

Well guess what? That’s a big, fat WRONG. That kind of frenching refers to meat, not veggie, and appears after the first use of the term “French fried potatoes,” or potatoes in the French style, so yeah–it probably is, in fact, referring to a French method of cooking, but in this case, it describes how they’re cooked, not how they’re cut.

Okay, so now France and Belgium compete over who actually invented the thing (it’s probably Belgium, though). But Belgium is like the Canada of France, right? So it’s the same thing? Well now it gets even more complicated, because Belgium used to be controlled by the Spanish, and was known as the Spanish Netherlands. Spanish conquistadores brought back the potato to Europe.

So your short answer is probably “Belgium invented the modern fry off of Spanish methods.” Lacking any real evidence, let’s just assume a Walloon is the one who modified this recipe and wrote it down in Flemish to really tie this international lovefest together. French fries: they even unite a warlike, colonial Europe! Though they divide a silly America that was previously standing united. Sigh.

They may have been invented by a saint!

Fries truly are the heavenly food! If they are Spanish in origin, then even Belgium’s own curator of the French Fry Museum (yes, they have it, and yes, fries deserve one) thinks they originated with St. Teresa of Ávila. And that’s the Belgian crediting the Spaniards! That would be like the American curator of the apple pie museum crediting the recipe to Europea–oh, wait.

St. Teresa is one of just three dozen Doctors of the Church, meaning she managed to become the elite class of the elite class. Even Popes kneel down to that kind of ranking, and she found a way to top that achievement with potatoes. Be honest, what would you rather have: eternal life, or a world with french fries where before there was none? Shoot, you probably get into Heaven just for inventing them.

If you invent Austrian Fries, though, you go straight to hell.

If you invent Hitler Fries, though, you go straight to hell.

Thomas Jefferson was America’s first fry cook

Fifty years before they first showed up in a cookbook, a french fry recipe shows up in Thomas Jefferson’s own handwriting. It seems our third president brought the indelicate delicacy back from France, complete with a french chef to make sure it was made correctly. So a few hundred years after the Spanish bring the potato out of the Americas and proto-invent the fry, America carries the triumphant frite home to be crowned the rightful king of our diet.

If you ever meet Thomas Jefferson’s ghost, thank him for french fries and democratic republic government, in order of importance.

Pilfered french fries were once the subject of  lawsuit

There are plenty of times fries have appeared in controversial court cases: people find weird stuff in their food, McDonald’s uses beef in its recipe without telling us, and that one girl got handcuffed and arrested on the DC metro for eating a single fry. You can search the web for those yourself, because we’re doing the important work here of cataloguing the time thieves ignored gold and took fries instead.

It seems a Munich art gallery was featuring artist Stefan Bohnenberger’s work, a cross made of two french fries next to another cross of the same materials now dipped in gold. Why? Because it was a commentary on “the metamorphosis of a profane everyday object into a sacred artwork” and presumably it was late the night before the art project was due, because nobody really believes gilded fries represent such a transition, right?

Like, he’d have been better off saying his work called into question the concept of value, where two fries, essentially worthless, can nourish one, but the more esteemed gold ones, despite their material worth, destroy the actual utility of the artifact, which can sustain life. See? Typical artist malarkey, and everybody nods. No, he had to get brassy about it. But we digress. Onward!

The Pommes d’Or [Potatoes of Gold] sat in display for 22 years, until Bohnenberger asked for them back in 2012. Not the gold ones; the edible ones, naturally. Though their digestibility was in dispute now that the fries were old enough to drink, they were of course more valuable than silly little gold trinkets, in that they were french fries. And fries, as we have established, are the food of presidents and God.

Now the Mosel and Tschechow gallery said, “Certainly,” only to discover that the fries were GONE! Somebody call the police!

"If all goes well, he'll be...a Bohnenberger with fries." YEEEEAAAHHHHH!!!

“If we solve this case he’ll be…a Bohnenberger with fries.”

In court, the gallery argued that the fries weren’t artwork (Yes! Correct! Thank you!), and only the gold ones were art (Boo! Hiss! Lies!). Listen, bubbelah, if either of those is art, it’s the perfect, crisp, salty goodness of the french fried potato, and not for the oh-so heady juxtaposition of the mundane with the tacky. Anyway, the court recognized that the gallery had put them on view for 22 years, so whether or not they were art, the gallery had treated them as such. It awarded Bohnenberger €2,000 plus two years’ worth of five percent interest.

As for the fries, their fate remains unknown. Did anyone check to see whether they were consumed by mold and vanished?

Most countries call French fries “American fries”

Well, crap. Turns out Freedom Fries isn’t that goofy a name. Some restaurants around the same time started calling their product America fries, and it turns out that’s much closer to the accepted terminology everywhere else. Of course, this will probably infuriate the same xenophobes who use the term America fries, since now they’re promoting world unity and embracing the soccer–er, excuse us, football–of fry terminology.

French fries have a godfather

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was one crazy Frenchman, by which we mean crazy for taters. See, in his time, France mistakenly believed potatoes caused all sorts of diseases and/or couldn’t be bothered learning the ins and outs of a new crop. But Parmentier, who was fed potatoes while a POW, made the discovery on behalf of his nation that Sacre bleu! Potatoes are, how you say this word? FAN-FRIGGING-TASTIC! He even has potato dishes named after him today.

Defying parliamentary law against potato farming, he embarked on a lifelong campaign to get people in on this root vegetable business. And wouldn’t you know it? You can lead a Frenchman to potatoes, but you can’t make him fry them. It’s like people didn’t even smell the delicious frying and baking coming from chez Parmentier and wonder how they could get some of that action.

Monsieur Le Pomme approves.

Monsieur Le Pomme approves. (Monsieur Le Pomme appears courtesy of Thinkstock)

That’s right — France never would have embraced fries if not for his efforts, and barely even then. It’s only when famine swept France that his countrymen came looking for a tasty meal of what were presumably at that point called Belgian Fries. And a good thing they did, too! The Johnny Appleseed of the earth could have thrown away on his other interest: mandating smallpox vaccines that saved thousands of lives!

Parmentier, as the godfather of both french fries and vaccines, we hereby recognize you as the most important human being in history, by any measure.

Brendan McGinley is editor round these parts when not writing comics or Cracked columns. You can say a neighborly hello to him on Twitter @BrendanMcGinley.

Enjoy more surprisingly stirring food history in Happy National Doughnut Day!.

Who knew it wasn't some goofy industrial holiday, but a solitary piece of happiness from World War I ?

Who knew it wasn’t some goofy industrial holiday, but a solitary piece of happiness from World War I ?


More from Brendan McGinley

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