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National Potato Chip Day celebrates the versatile, crispy creation

Salt and pepper, barbecue, cheddar and sour cream, baked, kettle-cooked, ruffled, waffle-cut and everything in between, one of America’s favorite crispy treats will get some special attention Thursday during National Potato Chip Day.

A snack with murky origins — some claim it was George Crum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1853 who invented it to spite a rude customer, while others say it came around much earlier, appearing in William Kitchiner’s “The Cook’s Oracle” — the humble potato chip can be dressed up in a number of ways to satisfy nearly all palates.

For instance, Hagerstown-area establishment Hempen Hill BBQ offers crab chips. According to co-owner Kathy Reeder, they are the restaurant’s top seller.

“It’s kind of what we’ve become known for,” Reeder said. “It does look like a big pile of stuff, but sometimes, that’s the best recipe for deliciousness.”

Freshly cooked kettle chips smothered in cheese and crab dip, topped with some fresh garnishes — plus a generous helping of Old Bay, of course — she said they’re a version of the classic nachos plate with a Maryland twist.

“We wanted to do it a little bit different, a little bit outside the box,” Reeder said.

The irony of the popular item is it almost didn’t make it onto the original menu 13 years ago. According to the menu, upwards of 651 baskets are now sold monthly.

Reeder said crab chips were the brainchild of Hempen Hill’s original chef, who wanted to incorporate the crab dip recipe of Reeder and her husband, Jay, into something more interesting than the typical bowl. With Old Bay-seasoned kettle chips already on the menu, the creation was born.

Now, crab chips are offered in large and small baskets, while plain kettle chips come as a side dish.

Reeder said while the dish is generally ordered as an appetizer for two to four people, it’s not uncommon for a patron to make it a meal — especially kids.

“It’s really straightforward and simple,” she said.

If people want to try it at home, Reeder suggests using a thicker-cut chip, about a quarter-inch, because anything too thin will become soggy from the wetness of the dip.

After Hempen Hill’s chips are nice and crispy, Reeder said, shredded Colby Jack cheese is baked on top of them in an oven for a melted blend.

For the crab dip on top, she said, home cooks should use a ton of crab and Old Bay seasoning with a nice, creamy base. Finish it off with some chopped tomatoes for a refreshing coolness to balance things out, plus scallions.

“After 13 years, I (still) could sit there and devour a basket,” Reeder said. “I don’t know why, but they’re addictive. I love them.”

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