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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite kind of history book - thoughtful, unusual, quirky and provocative
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...
Published on 30 Oct. 2012 by Lady Fancifull

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enthusiastic but lacks "aha" enough moments
Bee Wilson's "Consider the Fork" is an enthusiastic social anthropological consideration of kitchen equipment. The extensive bibliography and further reading chapters belie the depth of Wilson's research which is on an academic scale, and yet her bubbly, chatting writing style is as far from dry academia as you can get. It's hard not to draw comparisons with her approach...
Published on 15 Jan. 2013 by Ripple


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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite kind of history book - thoughtful, unusual, quirky and provocative, 30 Oct. 2012
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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. This great culinary leap forward also opens the way to obesity as an unwanted side effect - starches and sugars become easily available and we have to expend little energy to get at them - an apple eaten raw has the same number of calories as the same apple stewed - but the body uses more energy to obtain the energy from the raw apple.

I grew up with stainless steel cutlery as the norm (steel alloy with chromium) - so had no idea that the earlier incarnation of steel cutlery (carbon steel) would corrode and react with the acid in foods to produce a nasty tainted taste on foods. Hence the reason why the French still think salad leaves should be hand torn, not cut (a residue from days when knives plus vinaigrette caused that acid reaction) and why the well-off would have silver fish knives - silver plus a squeeze of lemon juice on fish, fine, carbon steel plus lemon juice - eeeukk to the taste buds.

And, finally, I could go on and on plucking out delectable titbits of info to wave at you, pronged on my stainless steel fork - what WE think of as `roasting' as in `roast beef' is in fact baking, as in `baked beef'. The root of the word roast has the same origin as rotate, and comes from the spit roasting of food stuffs over an open fire/flame, the meat rotated for even cooking and a collecting vessel below to catch the juices. A completely different (and by all accounts) highly superior flavour and texture compared to oven baked meat

I better stop here, and waste no more of your time, but encourage you to get this lovely book and its charming line drawings, and delightfully spear some snippets for yourself, on a very old, point- ended table knife!
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23 of 25 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and readable, 3 Feb. 2013
By 
S. J. Williams "stevejw2" (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This book is a delight, a pleasant change for a kitchen-focused book from the endless compendia of recipes which too often seem little more than eye-candy. Bee Wilson has produced a serious, but not dull or humourless history of the development of the tools we use, or used to use, to prepare and consume our food.

Each chapter focuses on a particular feature of the culinary process, such as pots and pans, fire, the knife, and is then followed by a brief essay on a specific implement as an example of technological development. So 'Pots and Pans' leads to 'The Rice Cooker' and 'Knife' to 'Mezzaluna'. (The electric rice cooker has swept into most kitchens in Japan, Thailand and many other countries in a relatively brief time, transforming the time-consuming preparation and cooking of sticky rice. It is clearly not, so to speak, a mere flash in the pan.)

Along the way Wilson draws on anthropology, physics, geography and many other disciplines in charting not merely when technological changes occurred but also why and how such developments could be related to cultural practices, diet and so on. Earth cooking and stone boiling, for example, were sometimes retained as cooking processes long after the same culture had embraced clay pots in other areas of use, simply because the staples of that culture's diet did not create a significant need for small items of food to be separately conserved. Similarly, the shapes of spoons used in different locations would reflect the nature of that region's diet. (Obvious, one might say, but I imagine most of us have never attempted to follow through such thinking.)

The cooking practices of pre-history are fascinatingly explored as well as developments from Roman times to the present day. Of course the modern kitchen is the site of all sorts of cultural tics way beyond practicality or need: the obsession with gadgetry, style etc. Though these elements are referenced, the heart of the book is about function rather than observing the barometer of kitchen fetishism. At the end of it, for me, the wooden spoon is the pinnacle of design, matching material, practicality and elegance in perfect harmony. how ironic that it should be a symbol of failure!

Others have complained that this is a less-than-gripping read with a thin sprinkling of insights: perhaps I am easily pleased, but I found the book very engaging and full of 'gosh, that's interesting' moments. It is well-written and witty. It also makes one look at the process of cooking and the tools we use in the kitchen with fresh eyes.

Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enthusiastic but lacks "aha" enough moments, 15 Jan. 2013
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
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Bee Wilson's "Consider the Fork" is an enthusiastic social anthropological consideration of kitchen equipment. The extensive bibliography and further reading chapters belie the depth of Wilson's research which is on an academic scale, and yet her bubbly, chatting writing style is as far from dry academia as you can get. It's hard not to draw comparisons with her approach and that of Bill Bryson in his broadly similar approach to the house in his "At Home" book. If you are a fan of that style, then you may well enjoy this. But while her clear passion and enthusiasm for the subject make it hard to be too critical, it wasn't quite as fascinating and compelling as I was hoping.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, it appears that at some stage in production there has been an argument about the structure - be that in Wilson's own mind or between writer and publisher. It's presented in eight chapters (Pots and Pans; Knife; Fire; Measure; Grind; Eat; Ice; Kitchen) each with a brief two page consideration of a particular utensil (Rice Cooker; Mezzaluna; Toaster; Egg Timer; Nutmeg Grater; Tongs; Moulds; Coffee). To me, this looks like a compromise between treating it as a full scale chapter approach and a more fragmented consideration of many items which might have made it more of a "dip into" book rather than a cover to cover read. The problems for me start in that there are signs of each in the text and therefore Wilson tends towards a lot of repetition if you read it cover to cover, which with the final structure, you almost have to do. It might have worked better divided into more bite sized chunks.

A less strong criticism, but one you might want to be aware of, is that there is a tendency for Wilson's own personal experiences in the kitchen to come over in the manner of that Nigella Lawson on TV style of an idealised, middle class life that few of us really get to enjoy. Wilson, we are told, uses a tape measure to make her biscotti. Maybe I'm just envious of this lifestyle but it's a long way from mine.

A bigger problem is that while there are some interesting nuggets in here (I never knew dogs were used to turn spits for example), compared with Bryson's "At Home" which had a "ohh, I never knew that" every few pages, here the "oh really?" moments are few and far between, especially if you have watched more than a couple of episodes of any of the TV antiques shows that regularly unearth historic kitchenalia.

Her approach is admirably broad - throughout history and global - although in general she is stronger on modern technology. However, this also leads to some strange omissions. She goes into raptures (correctly in my view) about the Oxo vegetable peeler and yet has no mention of the technically clever chopping blocks that fold over to present a kind of chute which seems to me very much in the same vein to give one example.

Overall, it's an enthusiastic and well meaning approach but the end result is a little on the dry side for my taste.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful, 29 Dec. 2013
By 
Thomas Pots "T Pots" (England) - See all my reviews
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The history of food technology - soufflé style, 1 May 2013
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Light enough to be digestible but with enough substance to make me feel I got something out of it. This is original history with a light touch. Engaging, good humoured and informative.

There are aspects that grate but these are easily whisked past and although this is really a book to be dipped into there is sufficient pace of account that it doesn't grind. Well seasoned with anecdote this is an enjoyable read. Given the amount that is written about what we eat, it is interesting that this is one of the few books to reflect on the history of developments in the kitchen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Loads of information but not presented in the best way, 29 May 2013
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
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Try as I might it is impossible not to compare this book to Bill Brysons At Home. I read At Home recently and loved every word - he seems to know at every point that your attention may be wandering and brings you back again straight away. Unfortunately this book doesn't do that. There are lots of interesting facts but it is presented in quite a dry way. Persevere and there are gems in here but they are too few.
At the end of each chapter, the author focuses on one particular kitchen item which relates to the that chapter. I enjoyed this structure and it was a good way to close the chapter.
If you are specifically interested in kitchen history then this will be enjoyed but if you are looking for some general interest reading then I would suggest that this would not grab you.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting insights into culinary history, 25 May 2013
By 
Karura (London) - See all my reviews
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Every day, many of us head into the kitchen to prepare at least one meal, and from the simplest can of soup to the most complex gourmet supper, we are bound to rely on some kind of tools during the process. And though we may not give it much thought, the familiar items of the everyday kitchen have a long history that shapes both their form and function. From knives and forks through to saucepans, fridges and ovens, this book delves into how humanity has developed cooking from the simple application of fire to a diverse and complex art.

Most of us probably haven't given a great deal of thought as to how the everyday implements of our kitchens came to be, but as this book demonstrates, there's a vast wealth of interesting history behind them. Over the course of its chapters, Consider the Fork covers not only the titular fork, but many aspects of culinary history, from humanity's early harnessing of fire through to ovens, utensils and refrigeration. Although the ordering of the chapters is slightly odd (fire is not covered until chapter three, by which point several of the salient points have already been made in the first chapter, "Pots and Pans"), the book is packed with fascinating historical information, taking us from the earliest attempts at cooking to today's modern, gadget-filled kitchens.

Whilst the bulk of each chapter is quite general, at the end one very specific item gets a few pages to itself - examples include the Italian mezzaluna blade and the nutmeg grater. The items chosen for such attention feel quite random, and there's probably an entire book's worth waiting to be written about specific kitchen gadgets alone.

That being said, overall this book makes for a fascinating read; certainly anyone interested in history or in cooking should give it a look.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Why Even Atheists Pray in the Kitchen, 10 May 2013
By 
takingadayoff "takingadayoff" (Las Vegas, Nevada) - See all my reviews
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Consider the Fork. And the knife. Pots and pans. Measuring cups. Items so basic that we rarely wonder how they came to be and what people used before. Bee Wilson considers forks and more in a book about the tools of cooking and eating. That may sound prosaic, but the result is simply fascinating.

Wilson gets down to basics in an informative, wide-ranging, and witty book. What about pots? It was a big step to apply fire to food and another big step to apply indirect fire to food. Humans were grilling and charring food for thousands of years before they tried putting something between the food and the fire. It was some time before they could devise a material that would stand up to fire but allow the food to heat through it. Once that was accomplished, humans could boil food and fry it. It isn't hard to imagine how humans discovered that fire could make unpalatable food edible or good food even better, but I'd never appreciated the gigantic steps it took to reach boiling and frying.

What about something as simple as timing a soft-boiled egg? Before clocks, before egg timers, how did people time their eggs, or anything else? Often by reciting a well-known prayer. The prayers would be familiar since everyone went to church often enough to know the prayers and the standard tempo to recite them. Six Lord's Prayers and the egg is done.

It was only in the past century that measuring amounts became at all standard. Recipes were rather tricky before standard measures. But in America they are still trickier than they need to be, because we are the only country that uses a cup to measure dry volume. The rest of the Western world uses weight measures (and metric weight at that, which we Americans still refuse to adopt.) A cup of flour is a terribly imprecise amount, as it depends on how tightly packed it is and whether it is a rounded cup or level. But 100 grams is 100 grams no matter how you pack it.

It hasn't always been a straight line of improvement, either. It's a mystery why egg beaters became so popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when wire whisks already existed and do the job better. Ice cream makers of a hundred years ago are quicker and easier to use than even the best ice cream makers of today.

You can read Consider the Fork from beginning to end or dip into it anywhere and find something that will make you think either "I always wondered about that" or "I never even considered that. Amazing!"

(Thanks to NetGalley for a review copy.)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and thought-provoking, 2 Jan. 2013
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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When we cook, Bee Wilson writes, 'we draw on the tools and ingredients we have to hand, governed by the rules and taboos and memories we all carry in our heads about cuisine'. "Consider the Fork" is an exploration of the tools and techniques we use when cooking, their history and how they have been shaped by our culture and how our culture shapes them.

Discussing Chinese cookery, for example, Wilson describes how most of the food is cut finely during preparation with one all-purpose knife; this means that in a country where fuel was scarce the ingredients could be cooked very quickly in a wok with the large relative surface area of the pieces allowing for flavour maximisation. When the food is brought to the table it can be eaten with chopsticks - there is no need for a knife - and the use of chopsticks brings its own rituals and taboos. In England, by contrast, fuel was plentiful and it could be used (by the wealthy at least) to spit-roast massive pieces of meat over many hours, the large chunks of meat leading to different habits and tools at the table.

The example above is just one of many discussions in this interesting book. In eight chapters Wilson discusses pots and pans, knives, heating and cooling methods, measurement, grinding, cutlery (or lack of it), and kitchen design. "Consider the Fork" is packed with facts and anecdotes and Wilson is an engaging and sensible guide. Sometimes I felt the book was overly repetitive with the same point being made in different ways and I am very suspicious of Wilson's etymology of 'batterie de cuisine' on page 51, but overall this is a book I would recommend to anyone interested in the culture of cookery.
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Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (MP3 CD - 9 Oct. 2012)
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