Consider the Fork

Consider the Fork

A History of How We Cook and Eat

Audiobook CD - 2012
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Bee Wilson traces the ancient lineage of modern culinary tools, revealing the startling history of objects often taken for granted.
Publisher: [Old Saybrook, CT] : Tantor Audio, p2012
ISBN: 9781452609577
Branch Call Number: CD 643.3 WILSON
Characteristics: 9 sound discs (ca. 11 hr., 30 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in
Additional Contributors: Larkin, Alison


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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.

Feb 14, 2013

Very interesting history of the kitchen. Audiobook narrator has a British accent.


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