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Culture of the Fork Hardcover – November 15, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0231121507 ISBN-10: 0231121504 Edition: 1st

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Culture of the Fork + Food: A Culinary History (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
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Product Details

  • Series: Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1st edition (November 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231121504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231121507
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,180,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1492, Columbus knew nothing of ragout. But perhaps he did enjoy the occasional sliced eel or roasted partridge, according to Rebora's investigation of food habits in Europe, from about 1400 to 1700. A professor of economic history at the University of Genoa, Rebora takes a scholarly approach and a learned tone in considering the impact of peasantry, population booms and modes of transport on the evolution of meals, drinks and, of course, spices. His is a quirky effort, though: no particular topic is treated in any great depth, resulting more in a pocket guide through the fourth dimension than a cultural treatise. This will be a disappointment to those who feel they haven't learned enough about the history of olive oil in four pages. Still, for those seeking the perfect dinner party conversation topic, the book is a godsend. Divided into 18 chapters, each on a different food type ("Stuffed Pasta") or trade passage ("The Sugar Route"), it offers countless delicious factual tidbits. The fork first appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages as a "single-pronged wooden utensil" used for eating lasagna, for instance, while 15th-century France had no plates diners used mensa, rounded disks of bread. Sonnenfeld offers a workmanlike translation despite the difficulties of, say, 60 different Italian words for various types of sausage. Etchings and woodcuts of ancient cheese graters and soup spoons, frying pans and coffee pots enliven the text, and a thorough bibliography refers readers to such Italian works as The Pleasures of Gluttony and Primitive Bread.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Translated from Italian, this highly personalized history of European food and cooking makes delightful reading. Assuming a bit of knowledge from his readers, Rebora sets out to debunk some myths. At the beginning of the Renaissance, food abounded in Europe. As the author points out, a skilled mason couldn't climb scaffolding to lay the stones of a cathedral if he was half starved. Surprisingly, meat was readily available and cheap due to the abundance of land for grazing cattle. Artichokes cost more than pork or beef; vegetables and fruits were poor man's fare, but peasants generally ate well. Religious opinion on fasting led to some strains in the market as fish prices soared, making a fast day's protein actually more expensive than meat. The rare luxury was the new boiled pasta, and a man's wealth could be assessed by the number of times a week his family dined on lasagna. The slippery noodles demanded a new eating implement, and the modified fork couldn't have appeared at a better time. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By L. Pazzaglia on October 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I would have given this book *five* stars, had it not been for the shoddy - literal translation from Italian to English. Being an Italian speaker, I sometimes had to re-read certain sentences with my "Italian" hat on to discern the meaning. This would have been an excellent book if the translation had been both literary and cultural but it is neiter. This, unfortunatly, detracts from the book a great deal as some references are not explained to the english-reading audiance who may not be familiar with Italian history. Since Italians use a great many words to describe something that would only take a few in English- the literal translation makes them read like run-ons and often leaves the reader lost at the end. If you are able to overcome all these obstacles, the content of the book is enlightning and educational. I learned that industrial olive-growing in Greece was implemented when they were under Venitian rule and that the fork, was originally a small spear that eventually became the four-pronged utensil that we now know with the development of newer, longer, slippery pasta shapes.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Constantinople went Muslim on May 29, 1453. America went Spanish on October 12, 1492. Months before, Spaniards fired the last Islamic king. All three happenings jump-started new food trends.
Another jump-start was new money- and power-holders. Bankers, mercenary captains, and merchants governed 15th-century Italy. They weren't from the traditionally Germanic nobility. They were open to new ways of doing things.
So too were glass- and tablecloth-makers, potters and silversmiths. Making cooking- and dinner-ware brought money and power. It was gold and silver for the rich, pewter and fine pottery for the middle class, and ceramics and wood for the poor.
Discoveries, politics, trade agreements and war also changed what people ate. Tradesmen swapped customs and ideas while dealing in goods and money. With enough savings, trades and palace cooks opened carry-outs, drinking houses, inns and taverns. There, the public found out the latest too.
One thing new was the CULTURE OF THE FORK. It came into use with eating pasta. A cookbook from medieval Naples urged eating lasagna with a single-pronged wooden utensil. Known as punteruolo, it led into the fork.
In Portuguese, when a poor man eats a chicken one of the two's sick. Selling the chicken meant the peasant could ape luxury-buying and use forks. This was possible when larger amounts of foods, such as spices, became easier to get. Prices went down. The elite stopped buying. Instead, the wealthy French switched to countryside herbs. Wealthy Spaniards took up hot chili peppers, new from America. In the Piedmont and Tuscany, cloves and pepper, respectively, went from elite to peasant use.
Giovanni Rebora says that the subject needs more looking into. For example, are hunger, boring food and alcoholism recent problems?
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