Summary and book reviews of Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork

A History of How We Cook and Eat

by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2013, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 transformed how 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.

CONSIDER THE FORK

But for almost everything else, the politest way to eat was still with a fork. Among the English upper classes of the mid-twentieth century, the "fork luncheon" and the "fork dinner" were buffet meals at which the knife was dispensed with altogether. The fork was polite because it was less overtly violent than a knife, less babyish and messy than a spoon. Forks were advised for everything from fish to mashed potatoes, from green beans to cream cake. Special forks were devised for ice cream and salads, for sardines and terrapins. The basic rule of Western table manners in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was: if in doubt, use a fork. "Spoons are sometimes used with firm puddings," noted a cookbook of 1887, "but forks are the better style."

Yet we have short memories when it comes to manners. It was not so long ago that eating anything from a fork had seemed absurd. As a kitchen tool, the fork is ancient. Roasting forks—long spikes for prodding ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Bee Wilson covers a wide range of culinary tools in Consider the Fork, but obviously she could not include everything. Are there any tools that you wish had been included in this book, but weren't? More generally, what tools continue to be underappreciated or underused—and do these share any characteristics with the ones that Wilson does discuss in the book?
  2. Put together a list of must-have kitchen tools. Where do you draw the line between essential utilities that no cook can operate without, and frivolous accessories that just clutter up the kitchen?
  3. In the chapter "Grind," Wilson writes that the Cuisinart "trans - form[ed] cooking from pain to pleasure"—and yet she confesses to still using "obsolete" or needlessly ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It is not just foodies who will love
Consider the Fork
, which is a fun and breezy read. At the very least, it will make you look at your pots and pans in a new light. And maybe even tempt you to give that bright-red Cuisinart on your countertop a whirl to create yet another memorable meal.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (853 words).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times

The pace is leisurely but lively. . . . It’s hard to imagine even the non-geek being tempted to skim sections. Just because Wilson takes her subject seriously doesn’t mean Consider the Fork isn’t a pure joy to read.

Wall Street Journal

In the case of Bee Wilson’s “Consider the Fork,” the author is blessed with an assemblage of entertaining tidbits and particularly lucid prose.... Wilson is a good tour guide.... [A] dizzying, entertaining ride.

Good Housekeeping

One part science, one part history, and a generous dash of fun, Wilson’s surprise-filled take on cooking implements makes one marvel at the dining rituals we all take for granted.

New Republic

[A] wide-ranging historical road map of the influence of culture on cuisine… it is easy and delightful to get swept up in Wilson’s zeal.... her tone suggests that she writes about food for the same reason we read about it: sheer pleasure and lighthearted fascination.

Discover Magazine

In this culinary history, food journalist Bee Wilson shifts the focus from the foods people ate to the technology behind their preparation ... In Wilson's hands, even hot water becomes interesting.

Elle Magazine

[A] delightfully informative history of cooking and eating from the prehistoric discovery of fire to twenty-first-century high-tech, low-temp soud-vide-style cookery.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This is mouthwatering history: broad in scope, rich in detail, stuffed with savory food for thought.

Kirkus Reviews

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 ... Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.

Booklist

Starred Review. At every turn, Wilson’s history of the technology of cooking and eating upends another unexamined tradition, revealing that utensils and practices now taken for granted in kitchen and at table have long and remarkable histories. . . . Wilson’s book teems with… other delightful insights.

Author Blurb Nigella Lawson
I love Bee Wilson's writing.

Author Blurb Paul Levy, editor of The Penguin Book of Food and Drink
I was so enthralled by Bee Wilson's new book that I found it hard to put down. As always she is a completely reliable guide to her subject, and this history of how we cook and eat is full of surprises—how human table manners have changed our bodies, and how technological changes can affect our personal tastes in food. Her authority is complete, her scholarship lightly worn, and her writing terrific.

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Beyond the Book

Back to the Future in the Kitchen

While Consider the Fork is filled with delicious nuggets about the history of kitchen implements, some geeky gourmands are looking back to the future and revolutionizing the idea of exactly what we consider a kitchen tool.

Beet FoamMolecular gastronomy, the precision cooking that uses emulsification, gellification and other techniques to create tasty and stunningly beautiful dishes, is cutting-edge and is now beginning to take off among cooks who want to create tasty dishes that also have an entertainment factor. Imagine making chocolate spaghetti, mint caviar or balsamic vinegar pearls. Trendy restaurants now create "foam" made of beets or mushrooms and use them as art on created dishes. Molecule-R Gastronomy KitA kitchen tool to make these, Molecule-R, is already ...

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