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Why Even Atheists Pray in the Kitchen,
This review is from: Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat (Hardcover)
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.)