It would be wrong of me to begin this post by doing anything other than crediting Julia Child with the awesome quote you see in the title of this piece. Now that that’s out of the way.
After a rocky beginning, the humble potato has managed to become a staple in multiple cultures due to its incredible ability to grow in difficult climates and, of course, its deliciousness. Originating in South America and gradually making its way to Italy and Spain in the late 16th century, it was universally met with distaste and suspicion. As it traveled across Europe, the potato was at various points considered unholy, poisonous, or even to be a cause of leprosy. It goes without saying that it was not particularly popular when it first entered the gastronomical world.
But the potato would overcome. A French chemist serving as a soldier, Auguste Parmentier, was fed only potatoes during his captivity in Germany during the Seven Years War. Determined to change the public view of the vegetable, he presented it to the court of Louis XIV upon his release. Surprisingly, it was met with such favor that Marie Antoinette even famously wore a purple potato blossom in her hair. Thus the potato became all the rage, and having received the official seal of approval from the aristocracy – and quite quickly the French people – the potato began to take off throughout Europe as a whole.
It seems critical to mention how potatoes would eventually find an enthusiastic home in the United States in one of their most famous incarnations. French Fries – or Pommes Frites, are said to have originated in Belgium, and didn’t appear in Paris until the 1840s. It is not known who first sliced the potato so thinly and fried it up, but the method took off. Making its way across the pond, the dish was referred to as “French Fried Potatoes,” being shortened ultimately in the 1930s to “French Fries.”
Oddly enough, after 80 years of overwhelming success and popularity, they are now frequently called “American Fries” in many other parts of the world.