Consider the Fork

Consider the Fork

eBook - 2012
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Since prehistory, humans have striven to tame fire and ice, and have braved the business ends of mashers, scrapers, and razor-sharp knives—all in the name of creating something delicious (or, at least, edible). The technology of food matters even when we barely notice it is there, but in recent years kitchen technology has become increasingly elaborate and eye-catching, transforming the old-fashioned home kitchen into a bristling stainless steel laboratory. Far from a new development, however, the modern kitchen is only the most recent iteration of an ancient lineage of food technology, as acclaimed food historian Bee Wilson reveals in Consider the Fork . Many of our technologies for preparing food have remained strikingly consistent for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans already had pestles and mortars. Knives—perhaps mankind’s most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of that other basic technology, fire. Other tools emerged quite suddenly (like the microwave, whose secrets were unlocked during radar tests conducted during World War II) or in fits and starts (like the fork, which had to endure centuries of ridicule before finally gaining widespread acceptance). For every technology that has endured, others have fallen by the wayside. We no longer feel the need for andirons and bastables, cider owls and dangle spits, even though in their day these would have seemed no more superfluous than our oil drizzlers and electric herb choppers. The evolution of food technology offers a unique window into human history, and Wilson blends history, science, and personal anecdotes as she traces the different technologies that have shaped—or slashed, pounded, whisked, or heated (and reheated)—our meals over the centuries. Along the way she reveals some fascinating facts—showing, for instance, how China’s cuisine, its knives, and its eating utensils are all the product of the country’s historically scarce fuel supply. To conserve energy, chefs rendered their ingredients quick-cooking by using large, multi-purpose chopping knives to reduce food to small, bite-sized morsels. This technique, in turn, gave rise to the chopstick, which cannot cut. What’s more, the discovery of the knife—in Asia and elsewhere—was likely what gave humans our distinctive overbite. Before humans learned to fashion knives out of sharpened rocks, many of us cut our food by clamping it in our front teeth, which gave us perfectly aligned rows of teeth. But Wilson shows that, far from being adventurous innovators, cooks are a notoriously conservative bunch, and only adopt new technologies with great reluctance. The gas range revolutionized cooking when it was first introduced in the 19th century by promising to end “hearth deaths,” a constant danger for women wearing billowing, flammable clothing. But indoor gas cooking—safer and more efficient—was nevertheless greeted with widespread suspicion when it was first introduced. Many chefs feared it would taint their food or poison their guests. The same hold true for the refrigerator, which was initially condemned as an unnatural technology that risked changing the fundamental “essence” of food. Perhaps the one exception to this technophobia, says Wilson, was the egg beater, new patents for which proliferated so astonishingly in late 19th-century America. In this fascinating history, Wilson reveals the myriad innovations that have shaped our diets today. An insightful look at how we’ve changed food and how food has changed us, Consider the Fork reveals the astonishing ways in which the implements we...
Publisher: [S.I.] : Basic Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9780465033324
Branch Call Number: OverDrive eBook
Additional Contributors: Overdrive Inc


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IndyPL_SteveB May 22, 2019

Fascinating history of cooking styles and technology and how they affect culture. Both enjoyable and enlightening.

We all eat. Most of us cook. We all use forks, pans, chopsticks, knives, toasters, coffeemakers, etc. But WHY we use these things makes for a very readable and absorbing history in the hands of food writer Wilson. She writes in an amusing style and has some real insights into cultural change and into the small changes we all make in our homes as we add technology or change what we cook. I can’t begin to explain how eye-opening this book was.

The author goes into detail on how refrigeration, microwaves, chopsticks, knives, canning, and cooking styles have changed entire cultures. We tend to think of cultures being changed by wars, science, agriculture, transportation technology, and similar massive transformations. But what happens in the home matters, too.

Jan 25, 2019

This is a well-written fascinating book that peppers the reader on almost every page with insights, anecdotes, origins and details pertaining to kitchens and kitchen equipment. A few terms here and there are "British" but they dopn't seem to detract from the overall quality of the writing and information. Try it, you'll like it!

This is truly a book to savour – I really enjoyed this book by Bee Wilson. I am in love with the subject of “food”. I have to know its history. What were we eating in the old days & how we “evolved” to today’s techniques, tools – to continue to enjoy the life that we have. (submitted by SF)

May 20, 2014

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.

BPLNextBestAdults Mar 22, 2013

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".


Mar 21, 2013

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

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.

ksoles Jan 26, 2013

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.

Dec 30, 2012

quite informative and entertaining


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