October 18, 2017

Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament

Written by Anne Renaud
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
Kids Can Press
978-1-77138-619-7
40 pp.
Ages 4-8
September 2017

Those delicious potato chips we purchase for their crispiness and salty goodness?  Seems they originated when a picky, picky patron of Mr. Crum's restaurant in the mid 1860s just could not be appeased.  Fortunately, the chef, Mr. George Crum, found a clever and tasty way to resolve a potato predicament.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud 
illus. by Felicita Sala
Author Anne Renaud weaves a fictionalized account of the very real Mr. Crum, a Native American and African American, who loved to cook and opened a restaurant to which people flocked.  When a oddly dressed man named Filbert Punctilious Horsefeathers orders a "heaping helping of potatoes", Mr. Crum delivers up his traditional wedged potatoes that had been boiled, fried in lard and sprinkled with salt.  But Mr. Horsefeathers sends the food back, declaring the potatoes too thick.  A second helping is also deemed too thick and "bland as burlap."  This continues with Mr. Crum cutting his wedges thinner and thinner, and salting them more and more, until playfully exasperated he cuts the "thinnest, slimmest and trimmest of slices" and fries them so crispy that they crackle and drenches them in salt.  The picky Mr. Horsefeathers finally declares them to be perfection.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud 
illus. by Felicita Sala

Quebecker Anne Renaud has written both children's non-fiction (e.g., Pier 21: Stories from Near and Far, Lobster Press, 2008 and The Extraordinary Life of Anna Swan, Cape Breton University Press, 2013) and picture books (e.g., Missuk's Snow Geese, Simply Read, 2008).  By blending the informational aspects of the story with a fictionalized context, Anne Renaud has created a revealing text that both entertains and informs.  Similarly, Australian illustrator Felicita Sala, who also illustrated Monica Kulling's On Our Way to Oyster Bay (Kids Can Press, 2016), capably imagines the people and places of the time with the details to entrance rather than just accurately depict.

Enriched with an author's note, photographs, and references, including newspaper articles, Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament pays tribute to the history of chef Mr. George Crum as developer of the potato chip, though the author acknowledges that others have laid claim to this invention.  Still, at a time when communications across a country were not instantaneous and communities were essentially isolated from hearing of new inventions, it's not surprising that the potato chip may have been developed at several locales at the same time.  As we know, potatoes are a staple in most households and trying to do something different with a common ingredient is not unusual.  What is unusual is that, in Anne Renaud's story, that need for innovation was at the behest of an unhappy customer who just thought potatoes should not be so thick or so bland.  The brilliant Mr. Crum found a way to appease that problematic customer and to retaliate for his seemingly ridiculous requests by inventing a food that has flourished for over 160 years.  That's a tasty example of serendipity.
From Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament 
by Anne Renaud
 illus. by Felicita Sala

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