Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

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Award-winning food writer Bee Wilson's secret history of kitchens, showing how new technologies - from the fork to the microwave and beyond - have fundamentally shaped how and what we eat.

Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. But these tools have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson takes readers on a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of objects we often take for granted. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide machines of the modern kitchen, but also the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks. Blending history, science, and personal anecdotes, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be and how their influence has shaped food culture today. The story of how we have tamed fire and ice and wielded whisks, spoons, and graters, all for the sake of putting food in our mouths, Consider the Fork is truly a book to savor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467650670
Publisher: Tantor Audio Pa
Publication date: 01/28/2013
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Bee Wilson is a celebrated food writer, food historian, and author of five books, including The Way We Eat Now: How the Food Revolution Has Transformed Our Lives, Our Bodies, and Our World and First Bite: How We Learn to Eat and Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. She has been named BBC Radio's food writer of the year and is a three-time Guild of Food Writers food journalist of the year. She writes a monthly column on food in the Wall Street Journal. She lives in Cambridge, England.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 Pots and Pans 1

With Rice Cooker

Chapter 2 Knife 41

With Mezzaluna

Chapter 3 Fire 73

With Toaster

Chapter 4 Measure 111

With Egg Timer

Chapter 5 Grind 147

With Nutmeg Grater

Chapter 6 Eat 181

With Tongs

Chapter 7 Ice

With Molds

Chapter 8 Kitchen 247

With Coffee

Acknowledgments 281

Notes 283

Bibliography 291

Index 311

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Wilson is erudite and whip-smart, but she always grounds her exploration of technological change in the perspective of the eternal harried cook—-she's been one—-struggling to put a meal on the table. This is mouthwatering history: broad in scope, rich in detail, stuffed with savory food for thought." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Bee Wilson

The Barnes & Noble Review: Why did you write Consider the Fork?

Bee Wilson: As a food writer, many of my waking hours are devoted to food — buying it, cooking it, eating it, reading and fantasizing about it. But I suddenly realized that while I gave huge thought to what my family ate, I hadn't paid much attention to the tools and techniques behind all these meals. Once I became aware of it, I saw how much hidden intelligence there was in the kitchen and I wanted to find out more. Technology was everywhere — not just in high-tech microwaves or sous-vide machines but in humbler objects such as egg whisks and mortars. I started to shift my focus from the what of cooking — the ingredients — onto the how. How did we learn to boil things in pots? How did knife skills evolve? Why did it take so long for anyone to invent a decent vegetable peeler? In the middle of stirring a pan of soup, I'd sometimes pause and study my wooden spoon with renewed curiosity. While writing the book, cooking supper sometimes became a lot slower; but also more interesting.

BNR: Why does kitchen equipment matter?

BW: From fire onwards, the way we choose to cook will also determine how we live. Archaeologists know that the cooking vessels and implements we leave behind are a window onto our beliefs. Kitchen gizmos can offer a fascinating glimpse into the preoccupations of any given society. The Mayans lavished great artistry on the gourds from which chocolate was drunk. If you walk around our own kitchenware shops, you would think that the things we are really obsessed with in the West right now are espresso, Panini, and cupcakes.

We sometimes forget that different cuisines are founded not just on different flavors but different tools. Take knives: do you need one or many? Cutting is the most basic form of food preparation — far older than cooking. But the way knives have been used, and the form they take, has varied dramatically. Classical French cuisine requires many cutters, from chestnut parers to ham slicers; Chinese cooking needs only one, the tou, used for everything from jointing chickens to cutting garlic into paper-thin slices. This difference reflects the fact that professional French cuisine is one of specialism, while Chinese cooking is guided by frugality.

BNR: Which cooking inventions have been the most important?

BW: Apart from the original invention of cooking with fire, gas stoves were perhaps the single greatest improvement ever to occur in kitchen technology. At the start of the twentieth century, they liberated millions from the pollution, discomfort and sheer time-waste of looking after a fire-powered stove. Looking at the Developing World, where smoke pollution from indoor cooking fires still kills as many as 1.5 million people a year (according to the World Health Organization) you start to see how life changing gas cookery must have been. Electric ovens and microwaves, though significant, didn't improve lives in the same way.

Another game changer was the refrigerator. We often overlook the fact that it altered not just individual kitchens but the entire food supply of America. The industrial refrigerator cars of the mid nineteenth century transformed what people ate: fresh meat, fresh milk, and fresh green vegetables became year-round staples in all parts of the United States for the first time in history.

But not all of the important developments in the kitchen have been such big ones. If you ask cooks which thing they love most in their kitchen, it's striking how often they say a wooden spoon. Cooking is made up of hundreds of small repetitive activities. Hand-held tools that enable us to perform simple tasks more effectively and pleasurably are the ones we become most attached to. Two of the inventions that consistently give me pleasure when I use them are the balloon whisk and the mezzaluna. Both were first used in Italy in the seventeenth century. In the intervening centuries, inventors have devised fancier ways to whip cream and chop herbs. Yet these remain the most satisfying tools for the job.

BNR: What was the strangest thing you learned in your research?

BW: I was amazed to learn that the alignment of our jaws and teeth may be a product of how we use cutlery in our formative years. A remarkable American anthropologist called C. Loring Brace noticed that the overbite — which orthodontists tell us is the normal arrangement for our teeth — only goes back around 250 years. Before that, surviving skeletons show an edge-to-edge bite, similar to apes. The best explanation for this change in our teeth is the adoption of the knife and fork, which meant that we started to cut food up into small morsels before eating it. Previously, in the West, we ate food using the "stuff-and-cut" method, clamping chewy bread or meat between our incisors. When we stopped using our incisors as a clamp — because of the knife and fork - the top layer of teeth continued to grow (or "erupt"), resulting in the overbite.

The clincher — I had goosebumps when I first read this — is that this change in human teeth can be observed 900 years earlier in China than the West. The reason? Chopsticks.

BNR: What is your favorite kitchen gadget?

BW: Coffee is my greatest addiction and I've become fanatical about the AeroPress, a plastic manual device that makes inky-dark coffee essence using air pressure. Coffee is a good example of how different techniques radically alter the end results, even with the same ingredients. To brew coffee is to do nothing more than mix grounds with hot water and strain out the dregs. But a modern cup of espresso made in a high pressure Italian machine has little in common with a Victorian pot of coffee, boiled for twenty minutes and strained through isinglass (fish bladder). I know which I'd rather drink. And the difference is technology.

November 8, 2012

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Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want a scholarly, in-depth examination of the history of cooking methods and utensils, there are probably other books out there better than this one. But if all you want is a readable briefing on the subject, this book will do the trick. The author uses a mixture of historical evidence and personal anecdotes to show us how our eating utensils came to be and how they have evolved over time. Some of the information she presents is fascinating, such as the fact that how we cut our food may actually have affected our bodies and led to the modern overbite. However, she tends to skim over the surface of most of the subjects she brings up. (I was hoping she would examine the whole topic of how and when the American or “zig-zag” method of eating developed. She does mention it, but only very briefly and without any details.) I did like how she presents everything from the perspective of the ordinary domestic cook who is just trying to put something edible on the table, even though she is obviously a gourmet chef herself. This book gave me an intriguing glimpse into the evolution of our eating tools, but left me wanting more. Note: the Nook version of this book has a lot of errors such as missing or strange punctuation and even some garbled sentences. Luckily, you can still decipher what is meant from the context.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An enchanting read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DStan58DS More than 1 year ago
Enjoy food and food history? Enjoy looking at societal changes and foodways? Read this. If you're not a history buff, and are more interested in the food, skip to the food stuff. You'll still get the best parts of the book.
CalliopeMF More than 1 year ago
As a history of cooking and eating, Consider the Fork is a delight throughout. Bee Wilson wittily covers all kinds of arcane stuff about human culinary adventures through history--starting with why we learned to roast our meat way back when. Lots of fascinating details from anthropology, archeology, history, ethnology, and sociology about how and why we cook. And wonderful details about fads in cooking and kitchen equipment. (Are YOU still using your Cuisinart? How about your Romertopf?) She even points out the virtues of such commonplace tools as the whisk and the teaspoon. This book is a winner for anyone who likes to eat, likes to cook, or likes to accumulate kitchen equipment. This Christmas I'm giving a copy to each of my friends in those categories, for their delectation.
Logic2 More than 1 year ago
This story piqued my interest in the minute aspects of everyday activities in the kitchen. I'll never take my cooking "chores" for granted after reading Bee Wilson's marvelous research into cooking technology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago