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

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

Written by Bee Wilson

Narrated by Alison Larkin


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

Written by Bee Wilson

Narrated by Alison Larkin

ratings:
4.5/5 (28 ratings)
Length:
11 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 9, 2012
ISBN:
9781452679570
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Since prehistory, humans have braved the business ends of knives, scrapers, and mashers, all in the name of creating something delicious-or at least edible. In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer and historian Bee Wilson traces the ancient lineage of our modern culinary tools, revealing the startling history of objects we often take for granted. Charting the evolution of technologies from the knife and fork to the gas range and the sous-vide cooker, Wilson offers unprecedented insights into how we've prepared and consumed food over the centuries-and how those basic acts have changed our societies, our diets, and our very selves.
Publisher:
Released:
Oct 9, 2012
ISBN:
9781452679570
Format:
Audiobook

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4.3
28 ratings / 28 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    This is a fascinating look at the history, not of foods or of cooking, but of the technology of cooking.

    What we eat and how we cook is determined not just by what raw food materials are available, but also by the available tools. Mastering fire was the first step toward eating food that isn't raw, and therefore things that simply aren't edible unless they are cooked. The next step were cooking vessels--we have pottery shards to help us trace the invention and development of clay pots, but we probably used hollowed-out gourds first.

    Knives predated that, but spoons followed. Spoons are used in every culture; they're essential to any cooking more complicated than roasting a carcass over an open fire.

    Both how we used fire, and what other utensils, continued to develop, and all of this sounds very dry and mundane. It isn't. Bee Wilson gives us a lively, complicated, completely absorbing story, both of how our tools advanced, and how we adapted to them. The fact that western cultures use knives at the table has tremendous ramifications for both how we cook, and our table manners. China, Japan, the countries that use chopsticks rather than knife and fork at the table cook in a completely different way, with the cook doing all the knife work, presenting at the table only food which no further cutting. Table manners reflect this, with no need to be careful one is not accidentally threatening someone with your knife.

    One aspect of the history of food preparation, cooking, and eating is that it tends to be deeply conservative. People find comfort in the food and cooking methods they grew up with, and tend to be suspicious of innovation. One example is a relatively recent one, refrigeration, which has clear and obvious advantages for food safety and the ability to keep enough food that each day doesn't revolve around bringing in fresh food--obvious, at least, to us. When first developed, cold storage for food was regarded with great suspicion. Would cold-stored food be safe? Would it taste as good? Was it a wicked plot by food vendors, to withhold food and drive up prices?

    Now, in most of the developed world, we'd be horrified to do without it. And Wilson makes the story of how we got from distrust to widespread reliance on refrigeration lively and entertaining.

    It's a lot of fun, a lot more fun than I'm making it sound.

    Highly recommended.

    I bought this audiobook.
  • (4/5)
    This is a fun social history of how the preparation of food has evolved over the ages. It's full of interesting little factoids like in in the age of open hearths, most chefs worked in their underwear, or even in the nude due to the heat and the possibility of clothing catching on fire. The United States is the only place to use measuring cups to measure dry ingredients. Every place else measures by weight. And speaking of weight, the US along with Liberia and Myanmar, are the only countries still not using the metric system.This book gave me a better understanding of the whys of how we cook..
  • (4/5)
    Trying to clear some of my queue before 2013 ends- enjoyable history of tools, implements, utensils, and methods of cookery- all the things we use to prepare food. It contrasts other books like the one I finished earlier today that focus more on the food themselves. Lots of interesting tidbits, such as Eastern vs. Western use of knives (doing all the cutting as preparation in the back compared to diners doing the cutting at the table respectively).
  • (4/5)
    Synopsis: This is a history of how food was prepared from open flames to the current technology.Review: This is dense reading, but also entertaining and enlightening.
  • (4/5)
    At first, I was comparing this book to Michael Pollan's 'Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation' as it seemed to be covering the same ground with the history of the four basic cooking techniques. But then it took off and is discussing all the technological details of implements. The chapter on knives is both shuddery and laugh-out-loud funny.A good diverting read.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this very detailed description of kitchen gadgets, but then I really like them for some reason.
  • (5/5)
    What a wonderful read! Excellently researched history, clearly presented science, and all presented in an almost conversational tone. I really think I need to own a nice hardcopy of this one!
  • (5/5)
    This was a fascinating and easily read look into why and how we eat the way we do. I had certainly never really thought about why we cook with the kind of pans we do, or eat with forks more often the the spoons we used through most of antiquity. Little blurbs about common appliances (ie. cheese graters and coffee makers) were enjoyable interludes. If you enjoy eating (and most of us do, right?), this will be an enlightening read for you!
  • (4/5)
    Bee Wilson makes the argument that how we cook and eat has cultural and epicurean import. The Chinese have very little fuel and thus rely upon food which has been chopped into small bite-sized bits which can be quickly stir fried in a wok. Chopsticks work well because the food is small enough that no knives are required, and the sticks easily handle the rice served in bowls. The English, having an environment rich in readily available wood, Coal, and peat, relied largely on roasted meats cooked over blazing large fires. Thus we follow interesting digressions into the development of knives, heat devices, cooling and preserving methods, to name a few topics. I fund this book to be very engaging. I love books about culinary history and this one didn't disappoint. Heartily recommend it to those who are interested in culinary developments and social history.
  • (3/5)
    Lots of fascinating stories behind the things we use to store, prepare, cook, and consume our food.
  • (2/5)
    I had a hard time making it through this book. It really was all about cooking equipment and cooking methods. There were a few interesting points (like the inaccuracy of measuring with cups rather than weights). But there was too much detail about very specific facts.
  • (4/5)
    The author looks at the history of food preparation, kitchens, utensils and appliances. It is surprising just how new our present concepts of kitchens and personal cooking are. If you had money, you also had servants to do your cooking, and the kitchen was not optimized for their comfort or convenience. Cheap and abundant labour meant little motivation for innovation. If you were poor you would just be cooking over an open hearth in the living area of your tiny home, or buying food from street vendors. So I appreciate my big, sunny kitchen, with it's full range of appliances, even if I do complain about the lack of cupboard and counter space.The writing is breezy and personal, so you don't realize just how much research has gone into it until you come across the copious endnotes and bibliography. More illustrations would have been nice, as I frequently resorted to Google. Starting about halfway through this electronic edition, there were some typos that looked like they occurred during formatting, and should have been easily picked up by a proofreader. The book was pleasant and quick to read. It gave a nice overview of the history of cooking without getting bogged down in technical details.
  • (5/5)
    Bee Wilson traces the history of how our environment and cooking equipment have shaped our cuisine and eating habits. A fascinating book that will change the way you look at food and cooking.
  • (3/5)
    History of kitchen devices. Lots of fun. Particularly enjoyed chapters on fire/cooking and pots. Also kitchen designs. Read on kindle.
  • (3/5)
    This is a meaty tour of food history, organized by topic instead of by time period. There's plenty of source material, and a boatload of bibliographical notes for a non-academic book. The topics (e.g. pots and pans) are inventive. I particularly liked the chapter on kitchen design.Still, it took a while for me to warm to this book, and I still don't love it. There's something about the author's tone that I find off-putting, although I can't really say why. I suspect I'm reacting oddly to some of the Britishisms.
  • (4/5)
    Well worth the the read! This is a bit like reading a Bill Bryson book. Its an eclectic slightly haphazard history of why we eat what we eat through a study of kitchen implements. The items discussed range from fire (and the stove) to the Cuisinart. If you like books about cooking or history you should read this book!
  • (5/5)
    Though they deal with different subjects, Bree Wilson's "Consider the Fork" reminded me a lot of Barbara W. Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror." There was so much blood, poverty, disease and generalized mayhem in that book that, you couldn't help but think that, as awful as the twentieth century could be be, it beat living in the Middle Ages by a country mile. "Consider the Fork" contains a ton of interesting facts about how humans have cooked and cook now, but when I finished it, I was grateful that I'm a cook now, instead someone who had to get dinner together a few hundred years ago. Blazing iron ovens, open furnaces, seven-year-olds made to turn spits over open fires, bakers working under conditions so torturous that they worked almost naked, tenements and cottages where cooking took place in the same space that people lived and slept? Ugh, the author doesn't hesitate to give you more reasons to think that the past could be an absolutely awful place. Heck, before 1940 or so, it was would be a stretch to argue that anyone, anywhere cooked for the sheer enjoyment of it, as many people do now. "Consider the Fork" is also a great read because the author obviously has a notably profound understanding of her subject. She's tried many of the techniques she describes, and has seen many others demonstrated. She doesn't hesitate to share her experiences with her readers. Several larger themes also run throughout the entire book: what makes a cooking implement useful? Why do some cooking techniques fail why other get adopted, while others are forgotten? Why do we tend to fear new cooking technologies, and how do we get over those fears? She views cooking and its equipment as the product as a kind of anthropological evolution in which unscientific but very resourceful did what it was necessary in order to survive. Some of the arguments she makes are very compelling indeed. She also doesn't hesitate to point out that, for much of human history, cooking was exhausting, dangerous, thankless, and largely unrewarding work. In fact, she argues that what we find valuable and admirable in cooking depends, to a large extent, on how much someone had to sweat over it. In a sense, Wilson looks to find the genesis of a gentler, more humanistic cooking, where the opinions and comfort of the people doing the work are prioritized. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the inventions she praises were thought up by women, who have, over the years, done most kitchen-related work. This implies a leftish political slant, which may turn off some readers. But it's not to feel a sense of outrage and pity when you read recipes that ask you to beat eggs until "one or two kitchen helpers are wearied." I'm not much for high-tech cooking, but "Consider the Fork" made me feel grateful for the humble, effective kitchen implements that I do have.
  • (3/5)
    A very readable history of ways in which technology shapes our food and culture, and vice versa.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this very detailed description of kitchen gadgets, but then I really like them for some reason.
  • (2/5)
    I got a review copy of this at ALA. I was really excited about it too. However, the book didn't live up to my expectations. It was particularly choppy, each chapter (one chapter per tool, basically) was a self-contained unit, and it didn't flow. I think I would have liked a chronological tale rather than a biography of each tool.

    I found that it was repetitive. There was one chapter early on where the author told me the same thing 3 or 4 times, in nearly the exact same wording.

    On the plus side, there were any number of fun facts.
  • (5/5)
    Detailed but entertaining examination of how human beings have fed ourselves throughout the history of civilization. The author traces this history of food preparation and food preservation, beginning with roasting meat over an open fire and moving all the way up to the innovations pioneered by today's molecular gastronomy movement. Throughout that evolution, she discussed the tools and techniques that humans have developed to nourish our bodies.
  • (4/5)
    A fun retelling of the history of how we eat, what we eat, how we prepare it, and what we eat it with. Along with how we shop for it, what we serve it in, what we cook it in, what we cook it ON, and any other thing one could possibly think of regarding food.Wilson shows a lively sense of humor in her understanding of the topic. She sounds as though she is a marvelous cook! My one instance of disagreement with her had to do with vegetable peelers. She claims they truly were not invented until the 1990s, but then I realized she wrote that tongue-in-cheek, since what she meant was that until OXO came along, the old peelers were torture tools. Since I had not thought that, it took me a page to figure her out.I did not enjoy the audible book as much as I think I would have enjoyed the print version. The narrator voice/accent was quite annoying. Her flat pass at American accents were often comical. Cantaloops? Whatever. It felt to me that she began the book parrodying an upper crust (bad pun, sorry) accent. But, with repetition, I became used to it.
  • (5/5)
    Loved it! Learned so much!
  • (5/5)
    I enjoyed this examination of how we cook and eat. I thought it provided an excellent mix of history, science, technology and -- most interesting -- culture and norms over the past 150-odd years. The author examines pots and pans, knives, stoves, refrigeration and more. Often, the book is funny and I learned a lot. A bit repetitive at times, but not too much. If you like to cook, you will enjoy this for sure.
  • (4/5)
    This is a delightful traipse through the story of how we prepare, cook and eat our food. Pots and pans : with rice cooker -- Knife : with mezzaluna -- Fire : with toaster -- Measure : with egg timer -- Grind : with nutmeg grater -- Eat : with tongs -- Ice : with moulds -- Kitchen : with coffee. These are the Chapters in this elegant and very readable journey through the history of our gathering, preparing and consumption of food. A perfect Weekend Cooking subject.The author has done quite a thorough job of research and presents us with fun anecdotes about our ancestors and the evolution of cooking vessels, implements, and eating habits. It's full of interesting, little known, and fascinating tidbits. I mean really! I never knew that those gigantic medieval roasts on the spits were often turned by a dog running on a treadmill. I wonder if the poor doggies at least got to gnaw on one of the bones from those juicy roasts? And I wonder if my dentist knows that up until the mid 1800's almost none of us had teeth aligned in the classic "overbite" formation?As I read this, I realized what a mix of time frames we enjoy in our "modern" kitchens. It was such a fun read that really got me to thinking about how I approach food prep and eating. I love eating with chopsticks but I also own several sets of more traditional Western cutlery and tableware from sterling silver to stainless steel.I still rely almost exclusively on my good steel knives for cutting and chopping (although I wield a wicked mezzaluna). My mandolin sits unused in its box. I gave away my Cuisinart - it took up way too much room on my kitchen counter. My little stick blender does a perfect job for my blending needs almost every day. I measure liquids in a pyrex measuring cup, and solids in stainless steel. I eyeball at least 50% of the dashes, pinches, tidbits and "to taste" ingredients I use and never realized until I read this that there are exact measurements certified for each of these, but who pays attention to mg or ml? Except for cake baking, I'm not a scientific "by the book" cook.I don't own a rice cooker or a pressure cooker, I gave away my breadmaker, but I use an electric coffee bean grinder, an electric ice- cream maker and a big Kitchen Aid mixer to knead dough. My 45 year old electric Farberware rotisserie does just fine on days when I can't grill outside.I own 5 different coffeemakers from the ubiquitous Mr. Coffee, to an elegant espresso machine. When the power goes, I still can boil water on the gas or wood burning stoves, so we can use our French press (but I'd better remember to grind an store some beans before the power goes!) I still squeeze lemons and oranges on a glass squeezie thingie by hand. I press my garlic with the side of a knife; grate my cheese, zest my lemons, and grind my nutmeg on a series of microplanes; and prep my apples for pies on a 1854 Green Mountain cast iron apple peeler-corer-slicer. My Revere copper bottomed pans are all 45 years old. I let my refrigerator make the ice cubes, and my slo-cooker do the boeuf bourginon, pulled pork, and Irish oatmeal.When we lived in Japan, I was too pregnant to lean over the short little gas stove in our little house, so I bought my first microwave and for 9 months, until we moved onbase and got an American stove again, I cooked EVERYTHING in the microwave. My daughter and I even baked christmas cookies in "the wave." We did a Thanksgiving turkey, cupcakes, coffee, baby bottles, popcorn, hot chocolate, meatloaf, noodles, mac and cheese, oatmeal, veggies, and applesauce. To this day, I still soften butter and icecream in it, with hardly an "oopsie." I did use an electric wok for stir frying and tempura. Now I cook with gas, my electric toaster oven, the slo-cooker, the waffle iron, the Farberware, and my trusty microwave (we're on the third one in 32 years). When the weather's good, we cook on a gas grill outside, but it took us thirty years to make the switch from charcoal to bottled gas on that one. Considering some of the evolutionary events described in this book that took centuries to complete, I guess I'm pretty modern.Here are some more interesting tid-bits from the publishers press release:THE TURNSPIT DOG: In Renaissance Britain there was a special breed of dog, the ‘turnspit’, whose job was to turn meat as it roasted. Bred to have short legs and long bodies, they were well suited to trundling round and round in a wheel attached to the spit. But there were signs that dogs were too intelligent for the job. One eyewitness recalled that the dogs used to run away or hide when they observed the cooks getting ready to make a roast for dinner. Many households switched to using geese instead, who could be forced to trundle the wheel for up to twelve hours at a time without rebelling.THE PESTLE AND MORTAR:For most cooks today, the pestle and mortar is a pleasurable utensil, with which we might pound up a green basil pesto for fun. It’s one of the more desirable and decorative items in any cookware store. But we forget that for most of history, the pestle was associated not with leisure but with servitude, the endless daily grind of producing enough edible nourishment. Female skeletons dating from the Stone Age in the Middle East reveal the strain that the pestle and mortar placed on the human body, with knees, hips and ankles all severely worn down from the pressure of hours of crushing grain against stone.KNIVES, CHOPSTICKS, AND TEETH: Our choice of eating utensils may not seem a question of great consequence, but the tools we choose to eat with have actually had a dramatic impact on our bodies. The alignment of our teeth in an overbite is very recent: only about two hundred years old in the West. It likely came about because of the adoption of the knife and fork, which meant that for the first time people were chopping food into tiny morsels before chewing, instead of clamping larger pieces between their teeth. In China, the overbite developed much earlier – around 900 years ago – which corresponds to the time when chopsticks were first used.MRS MARSHALL’S AMAZING ICE CREAM MAKER: In 1885 a great female entrepreneur and cook called Mrs. Marshall invented a hand-cranked ice cream maker capable of producing delicious smooth gelato in just three minutes – much faster than any electrical machine on the homewares market today. Instead of the paddle moving round while the bucket stays still, Mrs. Marshall invented a container that turns round while the paddle stays still. There are a handful of Marshall ice cream makers still in existence and they really do work. It goes to show that not everything in a modern kitchen is better than what came before. Why didn’t Mrs. Marshall’s machine take off? It has one big drawback: the inner container was made of zinc, a poisonous metal, so the ice cream it produces is mildly toxic.THE GIANT EGGBEATER BUBBLE: Between 1856 and 1920, no fewer than 692 separate patents were granted for eggbeaters in the United States, including the iconic Dover design. Yet not one of these supposedly labor-saving beaters did a better job than the French balloon whisk, which had been around since the sixteenth century. Almost all of these eggbeaters were swept away by the electrical revolution of KitchenAid and Cuisinart in the twentieth century.
  • (3/5)
    This book was moderately interesting. Much of the history of kitchen tools was educational and the author conducted research on the history of the devices. At times I found it a bit tedious but it may be that I was distracted by other things in life.
  • (4/5)
    The overriding impression of this book is that it is very, very British. Not entirely because of the reader, Alison Larkin (who is very British), or because of too much of an Anglo-centric focus in the history it covers (maybe a bit, but not enough to take issue with) – but mostly because of… well, there's the casual and frequent mention of kebabs and the *ahem* wrong use of "chips" and so on, but mostly it's the almost patronizing tone taken about the United States.Everything was going along just fine – I was entertained and informed, always my favorite combination – till I hit the chapter on measurements. According to the author, the US is the only first-world country to inexplicably cling to the bizarre and impossibly inaccurate method of measurement standardized by Fanny Farmer, using cups and teaspoons and tablespoons. Everyone else in the civilized world, she says, measures by weight, which makes SO much more sense and is SO much more accurate.While I have seen British recipes using weights (and skipped over most of them, not willing to do the work to find the website to help me convert them), I never realized that we are the lone rebels in the cooking world, resolutely measuring a quarter-cup of this and half a teaspoon of that. Interesting. As much as our method seems odd to Bee Wilson, weighing everything seems to me like a huge pain in the butt.Seriously? The rest of the world weighs, say, a teaspoon of vanilla? How the heck does that work? And doesn't that dirty even more containers or utensils than our way? Doesn't it all take much longer, and where the heck do you stash a scale when you're not using it? I have no counter space as it is; the thought of going from cups-tossed-in-a-drawer to yet-another-appliance-on-the-counter gives me a headache. How big is the thing?Now, what she says does make sense; I never thought about how different one cupful of whatever can be from the next, depending on a person's method of measurement and the kitchen's humidity and the phases of the moon. The way she tells it, we must be a land of flat cakes and rock-hard cookies and all around complete disasters in the kitchen.But here's the thing. I've been baking since I was ten, and cooking since a few years after that, and - not to brag, just saying – I'd say 95% of everything I've made has come out just as I'd intended. I've had cheesecakes crack; I've had cookies spread more than I wanted; but every cake I've made has risen (not all as high as I'd like, but they all did rise), and so on. So, while it does make sense that my cupful may differ from yours, and mine today might differ from mine four years ago, and that baking requires exactitude in measuring … um. Sorry. My experience just doesn't bear it out. And you know what? It's not just me. I can't say I remember ever seeing a cooking show on the Food Network or PBS that featured a chef (or plain old cook) using a scale instead of measuring implements. Even the snobbier end of the spectrum, exemplified by Martha Stewart (no relation) and the Barefoot Contessa, use the same old cups and spoons – and so does America's Test Kitchen. If weighing was so very superior, I would expect Martha and Ina to insist upon it, and if ATK – whose primary concern is determining the best and most reliable way to do and make just about everything – doesn't … Then, Ms. Wilson (and Ms. Larkin), you can rid your voices of that tone of marveling condescension. In the end your method is different, not better.So there.(I feel constrained to add that one reason an individual baker using the cup-measurement system may achieve a level of consistency is experience. I know when a batter is a bit thin, and add more flour; if it's a bit too floury I know how to correct. There's a natural personal consistency that comes with using the same utensils and measuring devices all the time. And I know how to adjust flavor as I go along. I suppose that's the point of the whole scales-are-better-than-cups argument; my cookies probably aren't going to be the same as yours. I for one prefer it that way. Consistency is necessary for restaurant chains and trying to recreate Mom's scones or such, but otherwise? My cookies are my cookies, and yours are yours, and that's the way it should be.)Speaking of tones of voice, for the most part Alison Larkin is an excellent narrator. There's a sense of humor to the book, and Ms. Larkin plumbs those depths quite nicely. She has a very pleasant voice, and a very pleasant accent, except … The only objection I have is when she reads a quote from an American writer (seriously, these two do not seem to see Americans as worth much respect) she switches into a pseudo-American accent which sounds more like mockery than a genuine attempt at dialect.Anyway. Gripes aside, this is (as mentioned) an entertaining and informative exploration of how the preparation and consumption of food has evolved through the millennia. It's fascinating stuff, invaluable to a writer of period pieces, and just fun for those who, as I do, love to look more closely at everyday things. Well done.
  • (5/5)
    “Consider the Fork” is a work of technological history. One doesn’t normally think of how technology relates to food, but not all technology is computers. Sticking a piece of meat on a stick over an open fire is using technology. Cutting that meat is using technology. Wilson takes us from that open fire, through cooking containers which enabled foods to be cooked with liquid- which allowed people with bad or no teeth to eat and survive- right on up to the cutting edge kitchen tools like the sous vide machine. Every change in food technology changed how people lived. Refrigerators allowed the keeping of perishable foods; people didn’t have to shop every day and there could be leftovers that were safe to eat. The turnspit- a rotisserie for roasting large cuts of meat in an open hearth- created a breed of dog with the proper build for going round in small circles turning said rotisserie. The fork (and chop sticks) meant that foods needed to be in small pieces, which actually changed how our teeth come together- we no longer had to pull meat off of larger pieces with the strength of our jaws. Food technology touches the lives of every single person and always has. The book is fascinating and a very fast read despite being filled with details. Wilson writes charmingly of domestic history and science. It’s like visiting the kitchen of a really smart friend and listening to her over tea and biscuits.