History of the fries
A certain number of people have influenced in an important way the evolution and promotion of the potato and the history of the potato fry.
We mention hereafter some of them :
Antoine Parmentier Carlos Manuel Ochoa Frederic II de Grote Geert Veenhuizen George Shima John Gregory Hawkes Luther Burbank Kornelis Lieuwes de Vries
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was born in Montdidier on 12th August 1737 and died in Paris on 13th December 1813. He was a chemist and an agronomist in the army.
All the French soldiers were given to eat when they were imprisoned in Prussia was potatoes. To their great surprise, none of the soldiers were under-nourished or exhausted.
After the famine in 1769, the Academy of Besançon organised a competition. Parmentier remembered that during the Seven Day War all the soldiers had to eat were potatoes and that they all survived.
This observation prompted him to declare that the potato was an excellent remedy against dysentery.
Parmentier won the prize in 1773 and did everything he could to ensure that the potato was part of the daily diet in prisons and hospitals.
Parmentier opened a school where people could learn how to make good quality bread.
Parmentier invented more than twenty different recipes for serving potatoes, such as, for example, a dish called Parmentier Potatoes.
In order to promote potatoes, he invited well-known people such as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier.
Whilst visiting King Louis XVI, he offered him a bunch of flowers picked from a potato plant. The King immediately placed one of the flowers in his button hole and offered another to the Queen who put it in her wig.
In 1787 Parmentier had potatoes grown near Neuilly on two plots of land he had been given by the King.
He made a sign on which was written “No entry: this potato field belongs to the King.”
During the day the field was guarded, but at night the inhabitants used to go and steal the potatoes. This is how people found out that potatoes were good to eat.
By early 1899, the potato had become part of the basic everyday diet in France.
When Napoleon declared a blockage on Europe, Parmentier developed grape sugar and sugar beet.
Throughout his life, he studied ways for preserving food and stocking wheat and was also interested in making cheese and wine.
He studied the effects of opium and improved the sea biscuit.
He promoted the consumption of corn and chestnuts, of mushrooms and mineral water.
Parmentier is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Tributes to Parmentier
• A statue was erected in his honour in the courtyard of the faculty of pharmacy in Paris.
• In Montdidier, a bronze statue of him on a pedestal dominates Parmentier Square. This monument was placed there in his honour. The front part of the base of the statue depicts Parmentier offering a potato to a grateful peasant.
• At Neuilly-sur-Seine a statue of Parmentier, made by the sculptor Adrien Étienne Gaudez can be seen opposite the entrance to the town hall.
• The “hachis Parmentier” (in English “shepherd’s pie”), as well as other dishes made with potatoes (such as Parmentier omelette) are named after him.
• The Parmentier Monument in Montdidier
• A statue of Parmentier on the steps of the town hall in Neuilly-sur-Seine
• A statue of Parmentier in the faculty of pharmacy in Paris
• The grave of Antoine Parmentier in the Père-Lachaise cemetery
Carlos Manuel Ochoa Nieves was born in 1929 in Cuzco and died in 2008 in Lima. He was a Peruvian botanist and distinguished for his study of the potato.
Carlos Ochoa was educated at the University of San Simón de Cochabamba in Bolivia before going to the University of Minnesota in the United Sates. For many years he worked as a selector and developer of varieties of wheat and potatoes. Amongst the well-known varieties he created are 'Renacimiento', 'Yungay' and 'Tomasa Condemayta'.
Carlos Ochoa collected a great deal of different species and varieties of native potatoes and indeed he discovered a large number of wild potatoes. Thanks to him around one third of almost 200 species of wild potato have been described.
Carlos Ochoa was professor emeritus at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM) in Lima, Peru. In 1971 he joined the International Potato Centre or CIP.
In Prussia, Frederick the Great (or Frederick II) used all means at his disposal to develop extensively the cultivation of the potato. His propaganda in favour of planting potatoes is less well-known that his military actions, but in both cases the Prussian army played an important role. It is said that he was the first person to plant potatoes in Berlin and he made his soldiers look after the crops. The peasant farmers stole the potatoes, ate them, and when they took a liking to them, started their own cultivation. Now this is just what the King intended. Frederick the Great certainly played an important part in getting the potato accepted by order. On 24th March 1756 he issued a circular that decreed the obligation to grow potatoes.
The potato introduced by Frederick the Great saved the people from famine during the Seven Years War.
When he died, the nation continued to honour him by placing potatoes on his tomb in Potsdam.
Geert Veenhuizen was born on 8th November 1857 at Stootshorn and died on 30th January 1930 at Sappemeer. He was a Dutch potato selector in the province of Groningue.
Veenhuizen left primary school at the age of thirteen and went to work in an orchard farm in Noordbroek. Apart from a brief period when he did his military service, he worked there until the age of twenty three. In 1882 he married Jantje van Wijk, daughter of a fruit and flowers grower in Sappemeer and he returned to the north where he settled. He modernised his father’s company and also worked as a landscape architect.
At the time, the industrial processing of potato starch was developing fast and Veenhuizen became interested in the cultivation of potatoes. He was in charge of field testing for a local agricultural association in 1889 and in 1903 he became the chief grower at an experimental station in Sappemeer. He selected several new varieties of potato, including ‘Eigenheimer’ in 1893, ‘Red Star’, ‘Bravo’ and ‘Thorbecke’. His seeds were also exported abroad. When he retired in 1927 he was given a royal decoration.
His work Het Veredelen onzer aardappelrassen (Improving our varieties of potatoes) was published in the Het kweeken van nieuwe aardappelvarieteiten (the Cultivation of new potato varieties). Veenhuizen died at Sappemeer and was buried in the graveyard of Koepelkerk church. On his tomb is an obelisk decorated with his portrait and the words “DE GROOTE AARDAPPELKWEEKER” (the great creator of potatoes).
George Shima (1864–1926), was a Californian businessman of Japanese origin and was the first Japanese-American millionaire. At one time he was producing 85% of the potato harvest in California and this earned him the nickname “the Potato King”.
Born under the name of Kinji Ushijima (?? ??, Ushijima Kinji?) in Kurume, Fukuoka district in Japan, he entered his first year at the Business School in Tokyo (now the University of Hitotsubashi) but failed his entrance exam. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1889 determined to learn English, the subject that had given him so much trouble in his exam.
On his arrival he changed his name to George Shima. Initially he worked as a domestic servant in a house in San Francisco then for while as a migrant farm labourer in the Sacramento delta. He soon turned his eye to business by supplying Japanese farm workers to white farmers. By the late 1890s he rented some land and started his own farming operations. He was successful enough to buy some inexpensive swamp lands (that white farmers considered unexploitable) in the San Joaquin delta. After draining and dyking the land he found that potatoes grew better in this type of soil and using corporate management techniques and the latest agricultural technology, he started to corner the market with his potatoes. In 1913 he had 113 km² in production and by 1920 with his “Shima Fancy” variety he held an 85% share in the market, then valued at more than 18 million dollars, now worth 191.46 million dollars in 2009.
His success in business did not protect him from racism however. In 1909 whilst he was trying to buy a house in Berkeley, real estate agents and other home owners actively opposed his offer. Despite being attacked by newspaper headlines such as “Yellow peril in College Town”, Shima was an active participant in the community to the point of donating $500 to the local Young Men’s Christian Association gradually winning over his neighbours. The opposition he encountered even brought him to become, that same year, the first president of the Japanese Association of America and to unsuccessfully fight the passing of the California Alien Land Law of 1913, that was written to prevent Asians from buying up land.
In 1926 he died from a stroke during a business trip in Los Angeles. The same day he was decorated with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan. At his funeral, David Starr Jordan, president of the University of Stanford and James Rolph, the mayor of San Francisco, both carried his coffin.
The Shima Center at San Joaquin Delta College pays tribute to his work. Yoshinobu Hirotsu, a fellow citizen from Kurume, raised several hundred thousand yen to erect a life-size statue of Shima in a park there in 1999.
John Gregory Hawkes was born on 27th June 1915 in Bristol and died on 6th September 2007 in Reading. He was a British botanist and specialised in crop plant genetic resources. During his lifetime he was considered to be a world authority in the field of potato evolution and genetics.
From a very early age J.G.Hawkes was passionate about botany. He attended the Grammar School in Cheltenham (Gloucestershire) and then went on to Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge where he got a first class honours degree in natural sciences before doing a PhD in potato genetics.
During his PhD studies he was employed by the Commonwealth Bureau of Plant Breeding and Genetics to take part in a scientific expedition they were organising in Latin America to collect new varieties of potato.
The expedition was initially planned in 1937 but eventually took place in 1939 under the leadership of E. K. Balls with J.G.Hawkes as the potoato specialist. Before that, in 1938, Hawkes had been to Saint Petersbourg in Russia to meet Vavilov who had organised expeditions of Russian scientists from 1925 to 1932 for the same reason and who had studied the results in detail.
Luther Burbank was born on 7th March 1849 in Lancaster, Massachusetts, United States and died on 11th April 1926 in Santa Rosa, California. He was an American horticulturist who developed more than 800 new varieties and strains of plant including the Russet Burbank potato, also known as the Idaho potato.
He went to live in Santa Rosa in 1875. He bought 69,000 m2 of land where, inspired by the works of Charles Darwin, The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, he experimented in cross-breeding different types of plants. Amongst the numerous hybrids he obtained were prunes, raspberries, apricots and peaches. He planted literally millions of different types of plants in his gardens and cross-bred 3000 of them. During his lifetime he tried out more than 30,000 new varieties of plant.
In 1873 Luther Burbank selected a potato seedling that he obtained from a variety called ‘Early Rose’. It is this strain of potato that through spontaneous mutation later on gave the variety ‘Russet Burbank’ which for many years was the most frequently used in the United States for the industrial production of potatoes.
His works are also the origin of an American law in 1930 that gave the opportunity to obtain a patent on new hybrid plants (The Plant Patent Act).
Burbank was a free mason. He was also interested in spiritual questions and during the last years of his life became friends with Paramahansa Yogananda who described him as the ideal American saint.
The town of Burbank in California was not named after him, but after a dentist called David Burbank.
Kornelis Lieuwes de Vries was born on 25th February 1854 in Hardegarijp. In 1881 he married Grietje Hommes de Jong and they had six children. After the death of his first wife (in 1895) he married again, this time to Afke de Glee who bore him another two children. Mr De Vries died on 20th November 1929.
Up until the age of twenty, Kornelis De Vries worked on a farm. He then went on to study to become a teacher. In 1883 he was made head of the public primary school in Suameer. He passed his exams in agricultural education in 1894 and his diploma as a teacher of agriculture in 1901. In addition to his work as school master, he used to give lessons in agriculture in winter. Mr De Vries was a member of the Agricultural Association of Frison, in Dutch the Friese Maatschappij van Landbouw. In 1898 the Association asked him to set up a trial cultivation of potatoes, which he did and carried on for the next 25 years. During this period he grew some 150 different varieties of potato, but only the bintje actually became a success and it was mainly this variety that the Dutch ate in their everyday diet.
The bintje is the name of a variety of potatoes that was grown in 1905 by Kornelis Lieuwes de Vries, who was the head of a primary school in Suameer. It was obtained by crossing two other varieties “Munstersen” and “Fransen”. The bintje was first on sale in the shops in 1910.
Mr De Vries used to name his new varieties of potatoes after his children and his pupils, both old and new. This is how the bintje potato got its name, from one of his old pupils, Bintje Jansma, who was 17 at the time and the daughter of Minke and Teade Jansma. Bintje was born in 1888 and died in 1976 at the age of 88 in an old people’s home in Franeker. We would also like to mention here the Trijntje and the Sipe.