Tuesday, April 22, 2014

French Fry Diary 577: Charles Chips

I've talked about Charles Chips briefly once or twice before on this blog. They used to be one of my favorite potato chips, especially their barbeque variety. I remember grabbing a snack bag for lunch a few times a week when I worked Pennsauken in the 80s and 90s. At the time I started French Fry Diary however, they were pretty hard to find - only at Cracker Barrel or a mom and pop deli in the same strip mall as Cool Dog Café - and then they vanished altogether.

They're local, out in Pennsylvania, which in my time writing about potato chips, I've learned is where many chips come from. Started in 1942, with the ingenious business model of home delivery in huge cookie tins, they've been doing this for almost three-quarters of a century. The Bride fondly remembers getting those Charles Chips cans just like milk brought by the milkman. However, sadly, just like milk delivery, the chips stopped coming directly to homes in 1974.

The Charles Chips company began to have financial troubles in the 1990s as they were sold several times to various unsuccessful owners who often fell to bankruptcy and other problems. Recipes were changed, distribution suffered, and soon Charles Chips were gone or just about impossible to find. The Scardino family bought the company in 2011 with the intent of online sales and bringing the memorable tins back. So far so good.

Reminiscing recently about milk delivery, and home chip delivery as well, The Bride and I looked Charles Chips up online. We could have gotten three bags - Original, Barbeque, Waffle (rippled) - in a tin for roughly $25 or without for $20. We had no idea what we'd do with the big cookie tin when the chips were finished, so nostalgia aside, we opted for without. And being so close to the factory (in general), there was no shipping fee.

A little less than a week later, our package with. The three nine ounce bags arrived unharmed, marked fragile, and well packed. The bags themselves seemed a bit streamlined from what I remember, but that's okay, I hoped the taste was unchanged. Notably I'd never tried the Waffle chips from Charles before, and their Barbeque was among my favorites. I hoped it was the same.

The Original chips were very simple - potatoes, cottonseed oil, and salt being the only ingredients, so they're all natural and gluten free as it says on the bag. Honestly I remember Charles Chips being a bit bigger and thicker than these. Now they have more of a Lay's feel, but with a much better taste. Honestly though I remember them being great, but these are only just okay.

Next up, I tried the Barbeque chips, and expectations were high, but cautious after my experience with the Original flavor. While these were not the barbeque potato chips from Charles that I remember, these were still quite good. These chips were notably bigger than the ones in the Original bag, and possibly thicker. The flavor was similar to Wise Honey BBQ with just a tad more sweet and honey taste. I liked these quite a bit, but as I said, not the chips I remember at all. I think there's been a recipe change in the intervening years.

The Waffle chips are decidedly thick and excellent for dipping. They are comparable to Lay's Wavy, but better. Yes, it's another Lay's comparison but this one's a good one. I liked these a lot, so it's two out of three, not bad for mail order chips. Maybe next time we will get the tin, and maybe just the Barbeque or the Waffle.


Joanne Costantino said...

I do remember Charles Chips! It was a treat when the delivery man came and exchanged the empty can for a new one filled with the next batch. I also remember that the can always held the oily smell of the potato chips! Maybe you should have ordered the can!

Anonymous said...

My mom imposed draconian anti-snacking rules on our household the whole time I was a kid. Potato chips were forbidden as an unwholesome extravagance - until my dad started making real money, and my mom heard about Charles Chips. Home delivery! How classy, and convenient. So my mom signed up, and we got the Charles Chips tin, filled with each delivery. Naturally my mom claimed them as hers, and they became a special element in the evening martini ritual. Naturally I kyped them from the kitchen every chance I got. They were excellent. Of the three reviewed here, I would probably like the ripples best. I'm a hard-core ripple girl, they're best even when not stolen.