Five Best U.S. Foods that Were Accidents

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Lists Issue: August 2016
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Chimichanga photo by Erik AbderhaldenAmericans have a knack for “happy accidents,” especially when it comes to junk and novelty foods. While Europeans try to build a better beet salad, many Yanks yearn for all manner of deviant dishes. Hot dog-hamburgers. Taco pizza. Deep-fried Twinkies. Triple-stacked and double-wrapped everything with two sides of ranch dressing. And all of that on purpose. But accidents happen, too, and sometimes, delightful dishes like the five below result, proving that it pays off to drop things on occasion.

#1. The chimichanga: Arizona’s own contribution to the world of glorious culinary mishaps, this deep-fried burrito has disputed origins. One source says the chimichanga was born at El Charro restaurant in Tucson in 1922 when the owner accidentally dropped a pastry in the deep fryer, but the founder of the Macayo’s chain claims he came up with it in 1946 after experimenting. Whatever the case, the taste of this happy accident lasts almost as long as the invention debate.

#2. Puffed potatoes: The Pommes de Terres Soufflèes at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans are the epitome of delicious epicurean accidents. The story goes that Antoine’s founder was given the recipe by Chef Jules Collinet, who made them by mistake in the late 1830s for King Louis Philippe of France. After the king’s arrival for dinner was delayed, Collinet removed potatoes from the oil in which they were cooking and set them aside. He was out of potatoes when the king arrived, so he threw the cooked potatoes back into the hot oil. They puffed up into pillows of palatable pleasure, and are still served at Antoine’s today.

Photo by HenryLi#3. Popsicles: In 1905 in Oakland, California, 11 year-old Frank Epperson took some powdered flavoring for soda, stirred it with some water, and left the cup on his porch with the stick still in it. The next morning, he discovered the drink frozen to the stick, and voila! – he had a “frozen confectionary,” which he patented in 1924. He sold the rights to his ice pops in 1925; the Popsicle trademark is now owned by Unilever.

#4. Chocolate chip cookies: Ruth Wakefield stated she invented chocolate chip cookies on purpose. Another legend says she was making chocolate cookies and ran out of baking chocolate, so she put chunks of semi-sweet Nestle chocolate in the batter thinking they would melt and when they did not, the chocolate chip cookie was born. Either way, Wakefield definitely invented chocolate chip cookies circa 1938, at her Toll House Inn in Massachusetts.

#5. Cheese puffs: Legend says that in 1930s Wisconsin (natch), Edward Wilson noticed that the moist cornmeal coming out of a grain-crushing machine emerged in puffy ribbons that hardened in the air before hitting the ground. He took them home, added salt and flavoring, and created puffy cheese curls, thus paving the way for Cheetos.