Reginadelmar’s CBRV review #13 Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

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In the 1970s I used to babysit for a family that was better off than most folks I knew.  One day I was looking in the cupboard for a mixing bowl and saw this odd heavy piece of plastic with a 3-inch projectile sticking out of the middle. Clearly it was an appliance because it had a cord attached. Next to it was a plastic bowl with a donut hole in the middle. What the heck was this thing?  Later I learned how to use the Cuisinart, although I couldn’t understand why anyone would spend so much money on an appliance.

My own Cuisinart is now over 25 years old. I chop nuts, make hummus, salsas, sauces and pie crusts. I use it regularly and eschew the local kitchen store’s offer to trade it in for a newer model. It still works. Besides after 40 years a new Cuisinart still looks pretty much like an old one.

Consider the Fork is an interesting history about how people have cooked and eaten food since the discovery of fire. The book is organized around specific tools rather than chronologically which makes for a very interesting read. The pots and pans of today aren’t much of an improvement over those used by the Romans. Fire was used in the kitchen pretty much through the 18th Century. Refrigeration was adopted rapidly in the US and slowly in Europe.

In the Middle Ages European people carried their eating utensil with them: a double-edged sharp knife. Meat was usually served in large pieces at the table and each individual carved their own food using their hands and knives to eat. Cooking entire animals or large sections thereof required a plenty of cooking fuel. In China where fuel was scarce, meat and other foods were chopped in small pieces before they were cooked. Thus while Europeans were using hands and knives, the Chinese were already using chopsticks.

Wilson’s book is well researched and well written. It is interesting to read about measurements in the kitchen.  We learn how the measuring cup came into use. Weight is a more accurate measurement. So why are American recipes usually expressed in cups and tablespoons and European recipes in grams and milliliters?  Culture has played a big role in the adoption of various tools in the kitchen. Logic not always so much.

Wilson tells  us that over the centuries, we have refined and processed our food through cooking. In the past that meant a lot of labor went into making a meal. Poor people bought food already cooked, or had a fire and a single pot, but not much else. Royalty and aristocracy had laborers to gather, clean, chop, grind, churn, tend fires, boil, sauté, serve and clean. Early cookbooks were not used by the lady or man of the house; they were used by the help.

Without our stoves and refrigerators, electricity and gas we would not be able to cook as we do today. A cooking enthusiast has centuries of trial and error at his or her fingertips, and most of us probably use a combination of old and new tools to cook. In addition to the basics, Wilson also treats us to the history of modern instruments like immersion blenders, the Cuisinart, OXO vegetable peelers and ice cream makers.  We all have our favorite gadget: a good kitchen knife, a cast iron skillet or perhaps a Cuisinart. They are our favorites; perhaps not because of their utility, but the stories they tell.

5 thoughts on “Reginadelmar’s CBRV review #13 Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

  1. You might also like A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone. I haven’t finished it yet, but it is a history of cooking with lots of sidebars with recipes and the like.

  2. Hi there. Great to see you’re still on track for 52 books.

    Speaking of cooking, Allyson and I learned a little last week about Nyonya food in Penang. Nyonya food emerges from a two-century simmer of Chinese, Malay & Thai spices, ingredients and methods. A fifth-generation Nyonya (Chinese in this region), taught us how, from market to table. Now, the challenge will be finding the ingredients locally. -Jeff

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