Cactus Chip & Dip Set


There is possibly no culinary practice more venerable, older, yet consistently revised and made anew than the dipping of a breadstuff into a semi-liquid substance. Think flatbread (or pita) into mashed chickpeas (what the Middle East calls hummus) or oil (perhaps olive). Think bread into cheese (or fondue). Think biscuits into gravy. Think fish (sushi) into sauce (soy and wasabi). Such practices cross time and space and culture(s).

But before the 1950’s explosion of the American snacking habit called “chip and dip,” there had to be the new ingredients produced en masse by industrial production methods. First came a potato chip, the “Saratoga chip,” legendarily developed in the middle of the 19th century by an American Indian cook, George Crum, at a New York resort hotel. Then came the corn chip, the “Frito,” in the late 1940’s, made by Elmer Doolin in Texas. All it took was the invention of machines that could peel and slice thousands of potatoes and mix Mexican corn meal (masa) and “chip-ify” the mix into Fritos. Thus Herman Lay and Doolin (later, Frito-Lay) made the mass production of salty, crunchy snacks, or chips, possible.

Followed by the consumer’s adoption of many Mexican, then Middle Eastern foods and flavors into the American repertoire, the consumer’s moving of the venue for food consumption from the dining room to the living room or to the highway and car, and the desire of some commercial food manufacturers and producers to create new uses for their products, we saw the proliferation of chips and dips. Guacamole and salsa moved from garnishes on Tex-Mex meals to dips for corn chips, available anywhere, anytime to anyone who could buy them by the sack, box, and jar.

Snacking in front of the television and in the car, any time of the day or night, required more and more finger foods. Excess dairy production meant finding new uses for sour cream and cheese. And limiting the use of the new dehydrated onion soup to, well, to soup put a cap on a clever manufacturer’s ideas for how to make money. Put all these factors together and America soon had a passion for the salsas, guacamole, bean dip, cheese dip and 7 Layer dip, for the hummus and baba ganouj for the legendary sour cream onion dip and clam dip that followed. Baked flatbreads such as pita and crackers of all sorts joined the potato and corn chips. In the 1990s, a fat and carbohydrate rejecting world tried to replace chips with vegetables to dip, preferably into spiced and citrus-juiced olive oils, putatively more in the “good-for-you” realm than the fat-filled dips. But the fat and salt filled chips and dips remained as popular in Snack Nation as the days when they were first introduced.

This ceramic chip and dip dish, made into the shape of a cactus (to hold the chips) and the beautiful pink cactus flower (to hold) the dip, was no doubt intended to hold some form of corn chip and salsa or guacamole, as its shape of the desert cactus indicates. Other typical shapes for the popular Mexican-inspired snacks of the period would have been the popular sombrero, with the chips resting in the brim and the dip in the indented peak of said sombrero. While some chip and dip sets referred to the origins or kinds of food put in them, some others were almost advertising, either for the sports event or team associated with the service of any snack (i.e. the football helmets with the team logos and names or the football shaped chip bowls). Holiday chip and dip sets featuring Christmas-y designs, or, of course, the ever popular Thanksgiving turkey wings are cast and spread for the receipt of chips for snacking before the dinner was served.

Subject: Food CultureEating


See more items in: Home and Community Life: Domestic Life, Food, FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Exhibition: Food: Transforming the American Table

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2012.0132.01Accession Number: 2012.0132Catalog Number: 2012.0132.01

Object Name: chip and dip setcactus chip and salsa set

Physical Description: ceramic (overall material)Measurements: overall: 3 in x 13 in x 12 3/4 in; 7.62 cm x 33.02 cm x 32.385 cmoverall: 3 1/4 in x 5 1/2 in x 5 in; 8.255 cm x 13.97 cm x 12.7 cm


Record Id: nmah_1422659

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