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Consider the Fork: A History of Invention in the Kitchen [Hardcover]

Bee Wilson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Oct 2012

Bee Wilson is the beloved food writer and historian who writes as the 'Kitchen Thinker' in the Sunday Telegraph, and is the author of Swindled!. Her charming and original new book, Consider the Fork, explores how the implements we use in the kitchen have shaped the way we cook and live.

A wooden spoon - most trusty and loveable of kitchen implements - looks like the opposite of 'technology', as the word is normally understood. But look closer. Is it oval or round? Does it have an extra-long handle to give your hand a place of greater safety from a hot skillet? Or a pointy bit at one side to get the lumpy bits in the corner of the pan? It took countless inventions to get to the well-equipped kitchens we have now, where our old low-tech spoon is joined by mixers, freezers and microwaves, but the story of human invention in the kitchen is largely unseen. Discovering the histories of our knives, ovens and kitchens themselves, Bee Wilson explores, among many other things, why the French and Chinese have such different cultures of the knife; and why Roman kitchens contain so many implements we recognize. Encompassing inventors, scientists, cooks and chefs, this is the previously unsung history of our kitchens.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Particular Books; 1st Edition edition (25 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846143403
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846143403
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 15 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


I love Bee Wilson's writing (Nigella Lawson)

Bee Wilson's Consider the Fork, though a work of considerable scholarship, is also a cracking good read, as enjoyable as it is enlightening (Raymond Blanc, Chef-Patron 'Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons')

This scholarly and witty book, packed full of fascinating information and thrilling insights, is as enlightening as it is a joy to read (Claudia Roden, author of 'The Food of Spain')

Mind meets kitchen: Bee Wilson sizes up every kitchen implement from the wooden spoon to the ergonomic Microplane, and gives us its history, including versions that led up to each object but did not survive for lack of fitness. Her climax is the kitchen, the room itself, the affluent modern version of which has never been so highly designed; so well equipped; so stylish; or so empty. She conducts us on a sobering, entertaining, and instructive tour (Margaret Visser, leading food historian)

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 (Paul Levy, co-author of 'The Official Foodie Handbook', and editor of 'The Penguin Book of Food and Drink')

A fast-paced and mind-opening investigation into the quirky stories behind our daily interactions with food (Richard Wrangham, author of 'Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human')

[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 (ELLE magazine)

In her wonderful new book, food writer Bee Wilson unpacks the paraphernalia of the average kitchen ... Witty, scholarly, utterly absorbing and fired by infectious curiosity, Consider the Fork wears its impressive research lightly; Wilson has given us a long view on everyday life - the early experiments of our primitive ancestors cast a long and complex shadow over the meals we eat. (Lucy Lethbridge Observer)

Substantial and entertaining ... Bee Wilson belongs to a rare breed: the academic who can write. This book is dense with research, all of it rendered highly palatable ... A keen cook, Wilson has no trouble sorting the culinary fads from the game-changers. (Jemima Lewis Mail on Sunday)

Bee Wilson has a knack for curating fact. Before you can get tired of reading about spitjacks in the Fire chapter, the subject matter hops into a page or two on tandoor ovens, then you find out about thermodynamics, cast-iron ranges and the blaze that set off the Great Fire of London. Throughout the book there are well-judged measures of historical information, alongside anecdotes and a touch of science. Oh, and anthropology ... a fascinating insight. (Gaby Soutar The Scotsman)

A delightful compendium of the tools, techniques and cultures of cooking and eating. Be it a tong or a chopstick, a runcible spoon or a cleaver, Bee Wilson approaches it with loving curiosity and thoroughness.... But as well as providing wry insights into the psychology of cooks down the ages, Consider the Fork is infused with a sense that every omelette, cup of coffee, meringue or tea cake is steeped in tradition and ancient knowledge, and that that is partly what makes cooking one of life's joys. (Molly Guinness Spectator)

Wilson's tour of the kitchen explores all the essential elements of domestic cookery through the ages ... the book is diligently researched and she has a sharp eye for a vivid historical detail ... perceptive. (Jane Shilling Daily Mail)

What new intellectual vistas remain to be conquered by the food obsessive? . . . The erudite and witty food writer Bee Wilson has spotted a gap in the market. . . . [Her] argument is clear and persuasive ... a graceful study. (Steven Poole Guardian)

Wilson is at her sparkling best when unearthing curious histories about the role these inventions played in the evolution of man. She serves up her impressive research in easy-to-digest nuggets, making the chronicle of even the dullest kitchen aid a palatable treat. (Metro)

A sparkling history ... Fascinating and entertaining ... In considering the fork, in short, she forces us to reconsider ourselves. (James McConnachie Sunday Times)

This broad survey makes palatable thousands of years of theory and experience. (Melissa Katsoulis Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

Bee Wilson writes a weekly food column, 'The Kitchen Thinker' in The Sunday Telegraph, for which she has three times been named the Guild of Food Writers Food Journalist of the Year. Her previous books include The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us and Swindled!. Before she became a food writer, she was a Research Fellow in History at St John's College, Cambridge. She has also been a semi-finalist on Masterchef. Her favourite kitchen implement is currently the potato ricer.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and utterly readable 19 Oct 2012
Consider the Fork, more than being culturally, historically, and anthropologically fascinating, is utterly readable. Each chapter is stitched with a slender thread of autobiography that gives the narrative a structure, which is both satisfying and intimate. Beautifully illustrated with ink and wash drawings, there's a real appreciation of craft here, both of the sentence, and the image. It provokes the belief that the writer, Bee Wilson, and illustrator, Annabel Lee, have a deep respect for cooking as a craft, exploring it through those overlooked objects, that make our kitchens. I loved it, and will never look at a knife the same way again.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an utter joy. Like many, I suspect I have been a competent user of the day to day tools in my kitchen, without ever thinking about the relationship between those tools and the very food that I eat, or the way I eat them.

In this wonderful unpicking of the humblest kitchen tools, pots and pans, eating implements, knives, the source of heat itself, Wilson throws open our long history, weaving in biology, sociology, politics, technology, and the very way society organises itself. And much more.

This is everyday social history of the highest order. Not only does she make some extraordinary, but, when you think about it, obvious connections, but her very conversational STYLE is engaging. I'm a bit of a lightweight really, and however interesting the subject matter I can't stay engaged by an author who is not gifted and skilful as a writer. And how Bee Wilson is.

For a couple of snippets - I had never considered that it was the leap from cooking food by direct heat - carcase over the fire - to the indirect cooking of something in liquid, that is: the need for a container so that the liquid can be heated by the fire and it is the heated water which heats the food - that opened the way to allow people who had lost their teeth through some trauma, to survive. Cooking vegetables and grains in water enables them to be turned into a mush which needs no chewing - and produces chemical changes. Some vegetables which contain chemistry which is toxic, could never be eaten until cooking vessels came into being - hard tubers can become soft when boiled, whereas cooked over a fire or within a fire are likely to be charred on the outside, and raw on the inside.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From forks and cookers and lots more 3 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While I'm interested in the technology behind coffee machines - and as a result have hob-top coffee makers to bean to cup machines - other technological developments in the kitchen have largely passed me by. I'm not sure that anyone has published a book on advances in technology used in the kitchen, and am certain no one has published something as comprehensive as this work. Well, there's not too much on coffee but over its 500 pages it covers just abut everything. The writing style is a little dry and the book would benefit from some use of colour in either line drawings or photographs rather than the relatively few pencil drawings it contains. As a result I'm dropping a star for this.

I'm not sure of the audience for the book. Technophiles are probably not going to be very interested in kitchen developments and the majority of cooks will have only limited interest in the technology behind the techniques and equipment they use. That said I think the book will fir the latter category best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not a classic 31 Jan 2014
By buy-it-try-it VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book promised more than it delivered in the end. It as a good idea, and obviously the author is well qualified to write on this subject, but sadly for me it had a feeling of "rushed school project" about it.
I kept hearing Dorothy Hartley in my head; some ground covered in this book overlapped with that of Food in England, a far far better book. Go and buy that one instead. Disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful 29 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Here's a novelty in food writing: a book about the kitchen itself. Wilson takes us on a tour of the kitchen, utensil by utensil, pot by pot, giving the history each, and examining the relative merits of the designs and materials that have emerged over time. The complex history of the kitchen and cooking, and their closeness to table manners, social niceties, hygiene and so on, make for very interesting reading.

What is an aluminium pot good or not good for? When and why would you use a wooden spoon or a metal spoon? What's the point of the point on a knife, or the squared-off bit near the hilt? The author certainly lifts the lid on many aspects of the kitchen that are taken for granted, but the real interest lies in the usefulness of this knowledge to producing better food. The humble cooking pot, for example, has a lengthy history, but its development points the way to choosing the right pot for particular ingredients or a given recipe. Surprisingly, the titular fork doesn't merit its own chapter, though it does get a few pages to itself, and plenty of mentions elsewhere.

The book has a few line-drawings but lacks good quality illustrations and photographs. Describing pot shapes is fine, but a few photographs would help the text. It is a very useful book though; well worth a read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky and interesting
Really interesting book - well read by the narrator and full of quirky facts
Published 10 hours ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect gift for 'foodie' know-it-alls!
A gift for my 'foodie' dad for Father's Day. He loved it and having read it cover to cover is now re-reading his favourite chapters and is boring all of us with his new 'did you... Read more
Published 1 month ago by H. Holland
4.0 out of 5 stars Grand
Well written, interesting and well researched.

Grand read and some surprising information. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr J R Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Really fascinating look at the history of food
With the focus on the utensils used to cook and eat food throughout the centuries and all over the world, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in history - by focusing on... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Chris
5.0 out of 5 stars Comfort food for the eyes.
Fantastic, well rounded history of items and utensils used in kitchens of all ages (and before there were kitchens!). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Squeebles
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book for Foodies
Excellent understanding of kitchen utensils all explained in an eloquent way. I would have liked to have read more about wooden utensils as I have a vested interest but this does... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Patrick
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but didn't hold my attention
This book is interesting and makes the reader think about things in the kitchen that they probably previously took for granted. Read more
Published 4 months ago by NRCM
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
A hugely enjoyable read about the history of food and cooking and all that that entails.
I was hooked on this book.
Published 4 months ago by Multikulti
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely interesting
I didn’t think this was my kind of book, but I was wrong, I was fascinated by the history of the way tools evolved. It is well researched and packed with facts and anecdotes. Read more
Published 5 months ago by L Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars A wry and sometimes whimsical sideways look at kitchen tools and...
What a great book.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I do find myself wondering - as I wait for something to come to the boil - exactly how the various kitchen gadgets... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Peter Coupe
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