Out On The Mudline

Got A Better Explanation For Origin Of French Fries?

By W. P. Sissell

Many, if not most, of you are aware that I am a “zipper scar” veteran of long standing (the very late nineties). One of the things that one does after that surgery is stay on some kind of physical fitness program.  

We call it “rehab.” Here in Batesville there is a group that has been together for many years now.  From time to time I have alluded to stories and events that have come to me as a result of being a part of that group.  The story that I relate today comes from a member of that group who has given me permission to retell the story. Harold Vaughn, and I agree, thinks that everyone should know where the name “French fries” originated.

The Name

I have known the name Vaughn most of my life.  In fact I think that my mother and father rented lodgings from the Vaughns in Water Valley when they were “newlyweds” and I think that Reuel Vaughn, the Vaughn’s youngest son, I think, was named after my father.

That has nothing to do with Harold’s story other than I know of no connection between Harold’s family and the Vaughn’s of Water Valley other than it is an English name, as you shall see.    Harold grew up in the Ptocowa area of Panola County but the family ancestors came from the Moor area of the English Isles.  

The Moor areas were not particularly nice areas for habitation.  A great portion of the areas was always wet and the small villages were often at odds with one another—to put it mildly.  Most of the families in the small villages kept enormous iron pots.  They were used in several different ways and I have no idea as to the reason for the great size.  

One of those uses was helping to ward off attacks by other villages or invaders. When an attack was imminent those big pots were hauled up to the top of the wall—every village had a defense wall (dirt between close-set logs)—filled with grease (melted lard) and a fire built under each so as to get the grease bubbling hot. The hot grease would be flung, by the bucket-full, on any invaders who tried to scale the wall.

The Normans

When the Normans invaded the Isles, about 1066, the attacks became no small matter. There is a lot of history here and any of you who had Miss Mable Markett’s World History class will, I’m sure, remember “the Battle of Hastings, 1066 when William the Conqueror defeated the English.  

In the fighting in the Moors, the well-equipped Norman soldiers (French soldiers) had plenty of ladders, long ladders. In  the little village where Harold’s ancestors lived, several long ladders landed against those great pots atop the wall.  When the village populace saw those French soldiers fall into that bubbling, hot grease they forgot the battle, clapped their hands while they danced and began shouting, “Frenchy fries, Frenchy fries.”

That’s Mr. Harold Vaughn’s story about the origin of the  name, French Fries—I don’t have any idea about where the story came from—but wait, he says when he was a boy they had one of those pots out on the hill in Ptocowa where he grew up but that’s another story.  

Do have a good week, enjoy yourself—I’m going to try to do the same.  You can reach me most of the time at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS 38606, wsissell@bellsouth.net, or 662-563-9879.

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