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Their invention is attributed to George Crum, who was chef at the Moon Lake House Hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York. In a fit of pique in 1853, he is supposed to have sent a customer some extremely thinly-sliced fried potatoes who had repeatedly sent back his chips because they weren"t thin enough.
They were first popularised in Britain by Frank Smith, who in 1920 set up a business in a North London garage. He and his wife sliced and fried potatoes, then sold them originally in open greaseproof bags from his pony and trap. Each contained a little blue-paper twist of salt.
The original Mr. Walker was a Leicester pork butcher, who moved to London"s Cheapside area and in 1948 hit on the idea of making crisps as a way of keeping his business viable during rationing.
Crisps are Britain"s most popular snack, with over 8 billion packets being sold each year in the U.K. This works out as an average of over 3kg per person per year.
The market has slowly changed, with sales of basic varieties falling, and premium brands such as Pringles and Kettle Chips (both American) vastly increasing their market share. Kettle"s sales grew by 22% during 2001 alone. While manufacturers such as Walkers still dominate the market, they are competing with their own "Doritos" and "Sensations". These often "hand-cooked" varieties are termed as being part of the "Adult Snack Market" by their makers.
For traditional chips, there are top-class regional producers who are worth seeking out.
Tayto Crisps, made in Northern Ireland, and Highlander from Scotland have their followings. While Seabrook, based in Bradford, fry in sunflower oil, and list 18 flavours - all of which can be delivered very reasonably by mail order. Other top producers are Burts of Kingsbridge, Devon; Jonathan Crisp and Cape Cod. See "Smith, Captain John"; and our Mail Order Section.