Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 10/9/2012
Is takeout a modern or a medieval phenomenon?
Were kitchens ever built outside the main structure of houses?
How recently was the vegetable peeler perfected?
What in blazes is a sous-vide skeptic?
Award-winning food columnist Bee Wilson pondered that the time was ripe for a book of culinary history focused on tools and technology. The author of Swindled and The Hive debuts her latest book Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.
“There have been books on potatoes, cod, and chocolate, and histories of cookbooks, restaurants, and cooks. The kitchen and its tools are more or less absent. As a result, half the story is missing. This matters. 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.”
Consider the Fork promises to make readers see their kitchens in a new light. Wilson begins with a hearty chapter on pots and wraps up with a satiating one on kitchen ergonomics. In the lively chapters between, Wilson also traces the history of knives, fire, ice, measuring, grinding and dining.
Reminiscent of vintage cookbook drawings, lovely pen and ink illustrations by Annabel Lee grace the book’s featured sidebars on the rice cooker, the mezzaluna, the egg timer, the nutmeg grinder, tongs, molds and coffee.
Wilson recollects nostalgic, pragmatic and quixotic about innovations old and new that have kept our food edible and available. Researching countless sources, historic cookbooks as well as kitchenware catalogs, she also shares some usable tips.
An easy method for detecting hot spots in pans:
“Just sprinkle plain flour over the surface of a pan and put it over a medium-high heat. You will see a brown pattern start to form as the flour burns. If the brown patch spreads over the whole surface of the pan, you’ll know that this pan has good heat uniformity. More likely, though, a small brown dot will appear toward the center: a hot spot.”
A quote from Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
“A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls and equipment you need.”
A gem of advice on gadgets:
“If you need a tool to grate both spices (and zest lemon, and grate Parmesan), then forget tradition and buy a Microplane.”
Why add another oversized tool to an already cluttered countertop or gadget drawer? Wilson argues for simplicity because constant upgrades to kitchen technology can be exhausting, especially when a new tool only partially solves a problem and brings about another layer of issues.
When we cook we generally look to traditional cookbooks or remember advice from a wise family elder. Wilson holds on to an unabashed preference for folkways (as safer and better), but praises those modernist innovations that improve our cooking experiences.
With a bias for aesthetics, thrift and romance, Wilson reminds us, “Nothing does the job of a wooden spoon better than a wooden spoon.”
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson is a highly worthwhile read for a concise, but accessible history with fascinating sidebars on how we cook and eat.
Category: Nonfiction, Culinary History