Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformedhow we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.
In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention. Many once-new technologies have become essential elements of any well-stocked kitchen—mortars and pestles, serrated knives, stainless steel pots, refrigerators. Others have proved only passing fancies, or were supplanted by better technologies; one would be hard pressed now to find a water-powered egg whisk, a magnet-operated spit roaster, a cider owl, or a turnspit dog. Although many tools have disappeared from the modern kitchen, they have left us with traditions, tastes, and even physical characteristics that we would never have possessed otherwise.
Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture. 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.
About Bee Wilson
Bee Wilson is a food writer, historian, and author of three previous books, including Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. 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. Wilson served as the food columnist for the New Statesman for five years, and currently writes a weekly food column for the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine. She holds a Ph.D. from Trinity College, Cambridge, and lives in Cambridge, England.
We normally apply the word “technology” to military and industrial equipment, writes the author, but in fact, developments in those fields often carry over to the kitchen. The inventor of stainless steel was trying to improve gun barrels, and the creator of the microwave oven was working on naval radar systems. In addition, innovations in cookware can have enormous social impact: Before food was cooked in a pot, people who lost their teeth and couldn’t chew literally starved to death. In the lively prose of a seasoned journalist, Wilson blends personal reminiscences with well-researched history to illustrate how the changing nature of our equipment affects what we eat and how we cook. “Knife” explores the difference between Western eaters, who cut big pieces of cooked food at the table, and the Chinese wielders of a tou, who chop up food into equal-sized pieces to be quickly cooked, saving energy in a country with limited fuel. “Fire” traces the evolution from open hearths to enclosed stoves, which brought women into the professional kitchen after centuries when their billowing skirts posed too much of a fire hazard for them to serve as cooks. In “Grind,” Wilson notes that the endless labor involved in producing smooth, highly refined food wasn’t an issue in a world where middle-class and wealthy Europeans had lots of servants; Wilson praises the Cuisinart as a revolutionary device “for the transformation of cooking from pain to pleasure.” – Kirkus Reviews
The Science of Sizzle - ‘Consider the Fork,’ by Bee Wilson
The New York Times Book Review – November 16, 2012 (Excerpt)
“Which comes first, the stir-fry or the wok?” It may sound like a bad joke, but the answer holds the key to one of the world’s great cuisines. Bee Wilson’s supple, sometimes playful style in “Consider the Fork,” a history of the tools and techniques humans have invented to feed themselves, cleverly disguises her erudition in fields from archaeology and anthropology to food science. Only when you find yourself rattling off statistics at the dinner table will you realize how much information you’ve effortlessly absorbed.
Wilson, an award-winning British food journalist and historian who contributes the “Kitchen Thinker” column to The Sunday Telegraph, is also, incidentally, the daughter of the biographer and novelist A. N. Wilson. Her fourth book (following histories of beekeeping, food scandals and the sandwich) proves she belongs in the company of Jane Grigson, one of the grandes dames of English food writing. Like Grigson’s, Wilson’s insouciant scholarship and companionable voice convince you she would be great fun to spend time with in the kitchen. [Read the full article...]
Consider the Fork - By BEE WILSON
Barnes & Noble Review – November 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
First there were the raw-food eaters — from whom the raw-food faddists have completed the circle 2 million years later — but things grew menacing quickly. Knives came next, then playing with fire. Flames brought warmth and light; they made our food more digestible, released more nutrients, helped make our brains big. We would lose ourselves as we gazed upon the flames in wonder, just as — also about 2 million years later — we would lose ourselves gazing into the refrigerator, looking for answers to life’s great questions. We are getting ahead of ourselves.
If you are open to being entertained and instructed by the history of food, then Bee Wilson couldn’t be happier to oblige. In Consider the Fork, she explores the ways in which kitchen tools and techniques affect what and how we eat, with the same owlish brio and dry humor that Jane Grigson brought to vegetables and charcuterie. Wilson has a searching fascination for how these tools came to be, their creative context: “We change the texture, the taste, the nutritional content, and the cultural associations of ingredients simply by using different tools and techniques to prepare them.” [Read the full article...]
Painted Wings and Giants’ Rings
A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
The loss of innocence, when “painted wings and giants’ rings made ways for other toys” is the central theme of this festival of children’s dream world adventures against the harsh reality of adult life.
In his newest novel, Wilfried F. Voss delivers a unique and insightful view into a child’s world and how it relates to the harsh reality of adult life, in this case the life of Roger Wilkinson, a businessman who is haunted by childhood memories and the ultimate fear of mistreating his own children. Wilkinson is in a coma after a car accident on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and he does not respond to physical stimulation. The doctor, assuming psychological issues, describes his condition as dwelling in a dark place. Consequently, Roger’s children, Patrick and Siobhan, decide to rescue their father from the dark place and bring him to Never-Neverland, because, in their view, nobody dies in Never-Neverland.
Painted wings, childhood’s great defender, And giants’ rings are such great splendor. Keep these treasures, don’t grow old In a world of tears and full of cold. - The Faery’s Silly Song
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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