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Consider the Fork

A History of How We Cook and Eat

Wilson, Bee

(Book - 2012)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Consider the Fork
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This book offers a novel approach to food writing, presenting a history of eating habits and mores through the lens of the technologies we use to prepare, serve, and consume food. It tells the history of food through its tools across different eras and continents to present a fully rounded account of humans' evolving relationship to kitchen technology. From the birth of the fork in Italy as it discovered pasta, to culture wars over shaped how and what we cook. Encompassing inventors, scientists, cooks and chefs, this is the previously unsung history of our kitchens.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, c2012
ISBN: 046502176X
9780465021765
Branch Call Number: 643.3 W7468c 2012
Characteristics: xxiii, 327 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm

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This book offers a novel approach to food writing, presenting a history of eating habits and mores through the lens of the technologies we use to prepare, serve, and consume food.


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May 20, 2014
  • abroomfi rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

After reading Bee Wilson's history of cooking technology, Consider the Fork, I consider more carefully the items that surround me in my kitchen. Some kitchen technology’s importance is obvious to me, like my electric convection oven or my gas stove, but much of it was less so. Wilson begins with the wooden spoon and ends with an equally taken-for-granted item, the vegetable peeler. Both items are so easy for us cooks to overlook, but by refusing to do so, Wilson gets at a number of profoundly important aspects to the history of cookery.

A wooden spoon has survived centuries, Wilson points out, because it works, and it works beautifully. People love the feel of wood against a metal pot because wood does not scrape or jar; it mixes food in an effective and harmonious way. She points out how wooden spoons of all shapes and sizes typically have a subtle, tapered point right of center that reaches into the corners of the pot to dislodge food that might be prone to stick there. Sure enough, when I examined my own wooden spoons, I found that she was right. Unlike the wooden spoon, the vegetable peeler is a relatively recent innovation. Yes, peelers existed before the 1990s, but they were cumbersome. They wasted a great deal of the fruit or the vegetable, and they hurt the cook's hand to hold them. If a cook needed to peel a mess of potatoes, Wilson points out, she likely ended up with blisters. It was not until the 1990s when Sam Farber realized how painful it was for his wife (she had arthritis) to manipulate a vegetable peeler that he went to work to determine a better, ergonomic design. The Oxo peeler (I have one in my drawer and entirely took it for granted), was the result. The history of the peeler is more involved, but Wilson's main point is that its revolutionary design made it not only a cinch to peel loads of tough vegetable and fruit skins, but that the revolution subtly changed the way that people cooked and what they prepared.

This is a common theme throughout Consider the Fork: how an innovation or an invention radically alters people's perceptions towards cookery and also towards food itself. Take the Cuisinart food processor. Literally overnight, one's ability to transform ingredients into delicious purees, a process that had previously demanded hours of labor (usually of a poor kitchen maid), meant that restaurant menus and cookbook recipes suddenly featured lots of dishes that might be best described as baby food. Many dishes were pureed, satin-smooth, and textureless. Such dishes, for centuries the domain of the super wealthy and the battery of servants who pounded, pureed, and sieved such delicacies, quickly became passé by the 1990s and so at this point in our culinary history, the well-heeled and sophisticated now champion foods that are chunky, chewy, and hard to eat, unless one has poor dentures or no teeth or little patience to gnaw through the thick crust of an artisan bread.

I approached Wilson’s history with some trepidation, not necessarily wanting to turn my leisure reading into work. However, her writing style, with its warmth and humor, and Wilson’s willingness to offer insight into her own experiments in the kitchen, make this culinary history one of the most compelling and memorable that I have ever read. I highly recommend it for anyone who cooks and who enjoys thinking about how meals are based largely on the ease or lack thereof of kitchen technology.

A fascinating tale of how food influenced cooking and eating implements in many cultures and how the implements influenced food. Of interest to all "foodies".

NET

Mar 21, 2013
  • zipread rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat --- by Bee Wilson. --- Consider the Fork considers not only the fork but the spoon, the knife, the pan, the stove and a myriad of other instruments found in the kitchen. A book that is informative as well as, in parts, is entertaining, it would benefit from a lot more illustrations: some of the kitchen tools are obscure not to mention their components beyond the ken of many readers; the book is written in English --- I mean ENGLISH English: I had a bit of a challenge figuring out what a chicken-brick was (a clay cooker, called a Roemertopf in the 1970s --- there, aren’t’/t you informed) so be prepared for help from the web. Nonetheless, an interesting (if quirk) book. Easy to read too.

Mar 07, 2013
  • icelandia rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This is not a "page turner" but a book that makes one think. It would make a great basis for an applied science course (both physics & chemistry) and a historical & cultural survey course of cooking and kitchens (past, present & future). This sort of information should not be limited to just culinary students, it's the sort of information that helps people make wise decisions regarding our most biological necessity -- eating.

My favorite "fact" from this book: Ferran Adria's kitchen employees at El Bulli began their mornings with plain ole cups of coffee and the staff meals were plain ole food, such as big pots of spaghetti. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie that's being made about El Bulli as the productions from that kitchen seem, to me, like the Emperor's New Clothes.

Jan 26, 2013
  • ksoles rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Forks, knives, pots and pans, measuring cups. These kitchen fixtures seem so basic that we can hardly imagine a time in which they didn't exist. But Bee Wilson takes us that far back in history and presents a fascinating look at the tools of cooking and eating.

How did humans cook food before pots? Only by charring and grilling. How did people know when an egg was cooked before timers? By reciting six Lord's Prayers. And how did recipes come to have standard measurements? Well, they still don't - most of the world uses weight, a system much more accurate than cups.

On one hand, Wilson deftly covers the basics in an informative, wide-ranging, and witty book. You can open any page of "Consider the Fork" and think, "I never even considered that!" On the other, the book has an "uncooked" feeling; it lacks cohesion and contains some patently false-sounding narrative. A smattering of history, a few attempts at charming personal anecdotes, and lots of name dropping don't yield much in the end.

quite informative and entertaining

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