Skip to main content

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork is a very entertaining look at the history of the equipment with which we have cooked and served food. I realise that, on the face of it, not everyone will be jumping up and down with excitement about this topic, but you would be rather mistaken to think this a dry survey. As anyone familiar with Bee Wilson's food column in The Sunday Telegraph knows, she is an engaging writer. The book skips along taking in a whole range of objects that help make the food on our plates more tasty and appealing.

Consider the Fork: A History of Invention in the KitchenThe book is divided up into eight sections, each one discussing a particular type of kitchen technology, be it pots and pans, knives, ice or fire. Wilson examines the influences on the development of gadgets and styles of cooking. As in so many other areas of everyday life, some inventions are the by-products of military research. Other changes have been stimulated by sweeping social changes. During the middle ages it was usual to carry one's own knife for use at the table. By the eighteenth century table knives were ready laid, had virtually no cutting edge, and were accompanied by a fork. Table manners were one part of the 'civilising process', affecting manners and behaviours across Europe.

How and what we eat varies across the world; the utensils vary accordingly. In China, food preparation requires a very sharp cleaver-style knife, called a tou. The tou is vital to Chinese cookery, chopping all the ingredients into bite-sized pieces before they are cooked. The finished dish is eaten with chopsticks, no more cutting required. The labour is the chef's, not the diner's. The concept of labour runs through the book. When labour was cheap and expendable one's status could be demonstrated by having one's minions roast huge hunks of meat on infernal spits. Or whisk up elaborate, time-consuming, labour-intensive desserts. There's very little need for labour-saving devices if it's not your labour sweating it out down in the kitchens. As servants became more expensive and, shockingly, started to question their employment conditions, quicker and easier methods of cooking developed.

I love this idea of the progress of kitchen utensils; especially as often no actual progress is made. One example Wilson gives tickled me. Beating eggs and cream is a laborious business, but necessary to make the lightest and most showy deserts. New-fangled whisks were developed, designed to make the job less likely to end up giving you cramp in the arm. All gadgety and showy, these devices weren't actually labour-saving at all; some were more work than the time-honoured method of using two forks. But, their impressive looks and slick sales pitch gave the illusion of a great leap forward. Wilson has many examples of gadgets that promise much, but end up as yet more clutter on the kitchen worktop. A quick scout around most kitchens turns up at least one such device. Ice-cream makers, juicers, even breadmakers - one person's favourite appliance is another's one-hit wonder.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It can be read straight through, or the individual chapters can be dipped into one at a time. It got me thinking about my favourite kitchen tool. On balance, I think it must be my large and medium pans. Stainless steel, from Costco thirteen years ago for very little money, they are nothing fancy. But, after more than a decade of being called into service constantly they still do exactly what they are designed for, and clean up easily without the benefit of a dishwasher. Functional, hard-wearing, reliable. What more could I ask of a pan?


Popular posts from this blog

Interview With The Vampire: Claudia's Story by Anne Rice and Ashley Marie Witter

Super Special Summer Picnic Book Chase

My nieces and nephews and I have a monthly book club, called Book Chase (although it sometimes gains an extra 's' to become Book Chasse). The rules are simple: we all bring something we've read during the last month, talk about it to each other, and eat snacks. We live tweet each meeting with the hashtag BookChase. Sometimes, when we remember, we Storify all the tweets too. This month, we remembered!


How to Stuff Up Christmas by Rosie Blake

'Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you've found an intimate picture of another woman on your fiance's phone...  Eve is heartbroken after discovering her fiance is cheating on her. Being surrounded by the joys of Christmas is more than Eve can bear, so she chooses to avoid the festivities by spending Christmas alone on a houseboat in Pangbourne. Eve gets gets an unexpected seasonal surprise when handsome local vet Greg comes to her rescue one day, and continues to visit Eve's boat on a mission to transform her from Kitchen Disaster Zone to Culinary Queen. But where does Greg keep disappearing to? What does Eve's best friend Daisy know that she isn't telling? And why is there an angry goose stalking Eve's boat?
This book illustrates how special a thing it is to have people send you books out of the blue; it's a privilege and a pleasure. I wouldn't have known about this book, let alone read and loved it, if it hadn't landed in my letterbox. I'm …