January 26, 2013
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
The author takes eight chapters and breaks down certain kitchen sciences and inventions into histories. The chapters are as follows: Pots and Pans, Knife, Fire, Measure, Grind, Eat, Ice & Kitchen. Some of these titles are fairly simplistic. For instance, Ice encompasses not only Ice Boxes, but Ice Cream and modern refrigerators as well. And some of the others are explanatory, like Pots and Pans. Each take you on a history as far back as the gadget existed and brings it to the modern and the different types we use now. There are also little sections at the end of each chapter that explore a single type of gadget, like a nutmeg grater. Such things as measuring cups, spoons, and even ice cream makers are discussed. But even down to the explanation of the fork through history, there's a lot in this book that isn't readily available in other history books.
Gadgets are interesting. It is possible to have a kitchen filled with gadgets that only do one thing (like an avocado cutter) or to just have a few trusty tools like a knife and stove. Each of these approaches takes a different kind of cook just like modern vs. traditional cooking takes a different type of cook. And the author does mention the use of sous-vide and it's rising popularity. I'm actually intrigued by the concept myself but have no room for any additional gadgets, especially after my latest foray into a juicer (and as the simplistic would say, what was wrong with an old fashioned manual juicer). For this whole book to be about the most simplistic of cooking utensils though makes it different from a lot of others. There is no technique being discussed here, just a simple history of some things we take for granted.
The writing itself was kind of dry. While I eagerly wanted to learn more about kitchen history, I had a hard time just sitting down and reading this book in one sitting and had to break it up a bit. There's a lot of fascinating information here, but sometimes the minute details are a little too much, such as the listing on and on of different types of spoons the Victorians used. I might have been a little more interested if there was a picture of all these spoons, but when trying to picture them all in my head, they all looked remarkably like teaspoons to me. And I'm not trying to say there aren't any pictures in this book. There are a few illustrations scattered throughout the entire thing. But I feel that this book could have been made so much better by actual photographs. Maybe not of everything, but there was a lot in there that I could try to web search each time, but it would be preferable to have it right there on the page. It would have broken up the monotony of all the detail as well. Wilson does tell it with a warm voice, but it's more like listening to a senior citizen wax on eloquently about how they walked uphill to school in the snow both ways.
It is an interesting book if taken in small portions. There's a wealth of information to be had (and a want for a Marshall Ice Cream machine) and it did inspire me to visit Ivan Day's website ( a guy who cooks historically). This is a good read for a foodie or historian.
Consider the Fork