Monday, November 19, 2012

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson

Target Audience: Food lovers and cooking enthusiasts. This would also work for someone who likes to read about cultural history and the history of everyday objects (see also: Brilliant by Jane Brox).

I love cookbooks, but I don't think about the ingredients as something that just magically appear in my kitchen.  I go to great lengths to know where my food comes from, who grew it, what went into producing it, and the kind of nourishment it provides. It's no secret that I love reading about food, but before reading Consider The Fork, I never really put much thought into my kitchen tools.  What of the vegetable peeler (which I don't own)? Or the wooden spoon (also don't own)? Or the ever-obvious knife (own many)? Wilson's detailed research changes the way we view all of those items we take for granted. After all, my great-great-great Italian grandmother didn't make her famous pesto in an electric food processor, but I'm not about to give mine up for the job.

Consider the Fork tells the deliciously fascinating history of cooking and culinary tools. From knives to coffee grinders to the kitchen fire itself, readers will relish every moment. Just how long did it take us to invent the vegetable peeler? How different are our whisks from the whisks of the Middle Ages? Consider the Fork takes the reader through the history of how we slice, cook, measure, grind, and mold our food.

The book starts out with the obvious beginning: pots and pans. Wilson explains that hundreds of years of cooking has yet to produce a material that will create a pan that will heat evenly, has non-stick qualities, is cost effective, won’t poison the eater, and is also durable. After years of trials and testing, an engineer named Chuck Lemme decided that cast iron rates highest among all available materials. Since I already have cast iron pans, this is the only chapter that doesn't make me immediately want to go out and buy things for my kitchen. Much.

Consider the Fork runs the risk of costing a small fortune for kitchen worshipers, such as myself. The chapter on knives had me all excited to buy a mezzaluna and a santoku, until I realized that the kitchen knife I use everyday is based on a santoku. The chapter on measuring has me convinced that I need to get digital kitchen scales and that it will solve all of my failures with baking.

The final chapter gives the history and origins of the modern kitchen. The kitchen as we know it did not exist until fairly recently. Before electricity, food was stored in cooler rooms away from the blazing heat of the cooking fire. Not until the fire was contained and the ice box was introduced, did food preparation and storage begin to take place in the same room as the cooking. It's odd to think that the room I consider to be the heart of my home would have been a strange sight just a century ago. Our modern obsession with the perfect kitchen is only possible because of the rich history of food preparation.

As a little bonus, each chapter is paired with an appliance that relates to it. These little sub-chapters are only about a page long and give an abbreviated history of a relevant kitchen tool. The pots and pans chapter ends with rice cookers and the measurement chapter ends with an egg timer. These little sections break up the book and give the reader a fun little history of some of our favorite kitchen objects.

Consider the Fork is also peppered with little illustrations of the tools that Bee refers to. I'm not always a fan of these kinds of pictures in books, because they can break up the text in weird ways and seem unnecessary. That being said, they are wonderful in this book. Annabel Lee depicts the implements Wilson refers to most often, which is necessary when trying to explain the subtle differences between certain kinds of knives and eggbeaters that the reader may have never heard of. Her pictures are simple and not at all distracting, all while capturing the personality of the book perfectly.

I will be bending over backwards to recommend this book to customers all holiday season. It is a must-have for any foodie or cooking enthusiast to savor. It's completely unique and it just came out, so you can be sure the recipient doesn't already own it, but will treasure it immediately as a delightful and juicy account of our kitchens.
Buy it indie!

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