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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 October 2012
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. 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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on 19 October 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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on 5 April 2014
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 not detract from a well written book that fills a gap in the industry relating to food, cooking and products to cook and prepare food.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.

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on 16 March 2016
An interview with the author brought this book to my attention, and while I was sceptical that the subject could fill a book I decided to give it a go. I was right to be doubtful. This must be the most long-winded, insubstantial books I have read. There is little here that I haven't come across before, and any new information is extrapolated upon ad nauseum. The section on weights and measures, for instance, is interminable and repetitious. And when you finish you conclude that what was said could have been done in a quarter of the space. Really the fundamental problem is that this is a thin plot stretched to ridiculous lengths. At 200 pages it may have been bearable, but 400 is simply overkill. If the writing were stylish and witty this may have been excusable, but the dry, functional tone makes the journey seem even longer.
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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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wish history lessons at school had been this absorbing! In her book Consider The Fork Bee Wilson has woven a narrative thread encompassing times both ancient and modern, and spanning all manner of human culinary experience. By introducing us to the technology of the kitchen we are given new insight into the lives of our ancestors and how their existence was so deeply influenced by the implements they had available to them. This rich and inviting anthropological approach to history is a far cry from the dry and tedious history lessons I remember from school, with lists of dates and names of long forgotten battles and monarchs.

This is a book that delights and informs in equal measure. It can be dipped into, chapter by chapter and depending on whether your mood of the moment might take you to egg timers, pots and pans or eating utensils, to name but three. My own special interest is cutlery, and I enjoyed reading about the marked difference between the Western – especially French – philosophy of using a myriad of uniquely formed specialist knives in a kitchen, compared with the Chinese practice of using just one, the Tou. And apparently the French cutlery was fundamentally influenced by the 16th century Italians.

There are nuggets of fascinating information throughout this book, and whether it’s Mrs Marshall’s amazing (and ultra rare) ice cream machines, the random nature of oven thermometers or the reasons why the toothless citizens of a bygone millennia suddenly began to live twice as long, you’re sure to learn new and wonderful things. It’s the sort of stuff that I like to regale at dinner parties, so the book has practical value for me too!

Cookery is a big money spinner these days, as evidenced by all the celebrity chefs and cookery programmes on TV. It’s a topic of interest to a lot of people. So, if you’re looking for a gift for the foodie in your life, and one that isn’t quite so predictable as the usual cook book, Consider The Fork would be a great choice. Or just buy yourself a copy, and wow your future dining companions.
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on 21 August 2014
If you're interested in food and the world around food then you'll enjoy this book. It was a fascinating read which I read over three evenings. The book is well set out and leads nicely from one subject on to the next. Includes lots of things you know but also lots of things you don't. I now want to go on one of Ivan Day's courses to really understand the history of what ends up on our tables, knives and forks included.
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on 24 May 2015
An excellent history of the basic utensils we use to cook and eat our food. The author weaves an enlightening and entertaining narrative of how our food cultures evolved. If you are interested in the why as well as the what of food, this book is worth the inward digestion!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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