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Food writer and historian Bee Wilson delves into the lineage of the cookware, utensils and appliances we use to prepare our meals in Consider the Fork, a surprisingly entertaining history of kitchen technology.
The phrase "kitchen technology" might conjure images in our minds of microwaves or high-tech blenders; here, though, technology simply refers to any tool invented for a purpose. In culinary matters, Wilson says, "it took countless inventions, small and large, to get to the well-equipped kitchens we have now." For example, did you know that before Americans used standard measuring cups, ingredients were measured by handfuls or finger widths? Or that Eastern and Western cultures developed different knife styles based on how their feudal systems affected their eating habits?
Wilson considers how cultural influences have changed and evolved the way people of the world prepare and eat their meals throughout history, as well as how cooking implements have left their mark on civilizations. Some ancient cultures, such as the Funnelbeaker culture of Neolithic Europe, are even named for the distinctive types and shapes of their pottery. Wilson primarily addresses the birth and growth of Western cooking, but also covers countries and tribes the world over, including the Maori of New Zealand, some of whom traditionally cooked their food over the naturally occurring boiling pools of the Whakarewarewa hot springs instead of manmade fire.
Wilson's sprightly, knowledgeable voice skips nimbly through the narratives of pots and pans, knives, grinding implements and eating utensils, working up to the theme of the kitchen as a whole. Short asides on particularly interesting niche items such as the mezzaluna, rice cooker and toaster provide quick, fascinating epilogues to each individual chapter. Her insights will change the way you look at your kitchen accoutrements. Take the blunt butter knife, descendent of the deadly and versatile medieval belt knife: "It takes a civilization in an advanced state of politesse--or passive aggression--to devise on purpose a knife that does a worse job of cutting."
Don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting up at night with Consider the Fork, unable to turn out the light until you find out how storing and shipping ice became viable. You will never again walk into your kitchen without thinking of the rich history represented by even the humble fork.
***This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness. Sign up for this free and awesome newsletter at http://www.shelf-awareness.com for the latest news and reviews! This review refers to an ARC provided by Shelf Awareness.***