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Setting the Table   Leave a comment

considerfork

Anyone worth his or her salt in the kitchen has drawers and cabinets full of wonderfully useful and incredibly useless gadgets. Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat provides historical and cultural perspectives on how most of them came into our lives. The book is divided into eight sections, each addressing a specific element of cooking under such headings as “Knife,” “Fire,” “Eat,” among others. Yes, the fork gets plenty of attention, but so do other implements that impact not just how food is prepared, but what’s eaten.

Wilson examines the technology behind cooking tools, using the purest definition of the word: “Techne means an art, skill or craft, and logia means the study of something.” Occasionally, she gets bogged down by too much detail, such as the various types of fuels, or the dangers inherent in knives. But who knew about the egg beater boom in the late 1800s? How about that “Kitchen Debate” between the U.S. and Russia at the time of the Cold War?

Nonetheless, reflecting on why we use certain implements versus others, or why some are no longer to be found, is pretty interesting stuff. Wilson has done her homework. If nothing else, I gained insight into the evolution of pots and pans, and now know that the fork was initially not well-received. It took the Italians and pasta to demonstrate its usefulness.

Besides, having read the book I discovered a few new Scrabble words: quern, trifid and ulu.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Basic Books, 2012
310 pages, including notes and bibliography

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