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Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat Hardcover – October 2, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 232 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At every turn, Wilson’s history of the technology of cooking and eating upends another unexamined tradition, revealing that utensils and practices now taken for granted in kitchen and at table have long and remarkable histories. The knife evolved from primitive humans’ need to reduce food to manageable portions. Thermometers helped make home ovens practical. Some of the first pleas for animal rights arose from the use of caged dogs to turn spits in front of kitchen hearths. Most societies weigh recipe ingredients, but Americans continue to measure ingredients by volume. Wilson traces this deviation back to the difficulty of lugging scales westward across the frontier. Wilson’s book teems with other delightful insights, laying to rest such questions as what Chinese parents say to their children to persuade them to finish their food, since they can’t employ the typical American admonition about children starving in China. (Answer: Don’t disrespect the sweat of the hardworking rice farmer.) --Mark Knoblauch


New York Times Book Review
“Bee Wilson’s supple, sometimes playful style in Consider the Fork, a history of the tools and techniques humans have invented to feed themselves, cleverly disguises her erudition in fields from archaeology and anthropology to food science…. Wilson’s insouciant scholarship and companionable voice convince you she would be great fun to spend time with in the kitchen.... [Wilson is a] congenial kitchen oracle.”

The New Yorker
"Full of intriguing scholarship… Wilson remains engaging, and nowhere as deeply or as smoothly as in Consider the Fork, where the information she has to juggle is at once gastronomic, cultural, economic, and scientific…. Everything in Bee Wilson’s pithy book brings you back to the kitchen: her histories of weights and measures and pots and pans; her observations on the domestication of fire and ice…; her homey riffs on small, exasperating “technologies” like egg timers, cake molds, tongs, and toasters…. Socially astute and funny.”

The Washington Post
"[An] ambitious, blenderized treatise. The path from Stone Age flints to sous-vide machines whirs so smoothly that I found myself re-reading passages just to trace how the author managed to work in a Victorian copper batterie de cuisine along the way."

ELLE Magazine
“[A] delightfully informative history of cooking and eating from the prehistoric discovery of fire to twenty-first-century high-tech, low-temp soud-vide-style cookery.”

Alice Rawsthorn, NewYorkTimes.com
“One of the delights of Consider the Fork is that [Wilson’s] fascination with the history of food is balanced by the pleasure she takes in preparing dishes herself, watching others do so and, best of all, tasting the results. Ms. Wilson’s design critiques of different utensils, from the humble wooden spoon to a snazzy sous-vide water bath, are all the more convincing for being made by a knowledgeable and passionate cook, who isn’t afraid to admit to her failures, yet longs for delicious successes.”

Los Angeles Times
“Wilson is a British food writer not nearly well enough known in this country, who writes beautifully and has the academic chops to deliver what she promises. . . . Reading the book is like having a long dinner table discussion with a fascinating friend. At one moment, she’s reflecting on the development of cast-iron cookware, then she’s relating the history of the Le Creuset company and the public’s changing tastes in color and then she’s reminiscing about her mother-in-law’s favorite blue pots. . . . The pace is leisurely but lively. . . . It’s hard to imagine even the non-geek being tempted to skim sections. Just because Wilson takes her subject seriously doesn’t mean Consider the Fork isn’t a pure joy to read.”

Good Housekeeping
“One part science, one part history, and a generous dash of fun, Wilson’s surprise-filled take on cooking implements makes one marvel at the dining rituals we all take for granted.”

New Republic
“[A] wide-ranging historical road map of the influence of culture on cuisine… it is easy and delightful to get swept up in Wilson’s zeal.... It is fluid yet engaging, just like a good conversation over a pan of sizzling vegetables.... Cooking is full of paradoxes. It is art and science, ancient and modern, fundamental and trivial, easy and difficult. Wilson presents these dissonances in their entirety, making no show of resolving them. In the end, her tone suggests that she writes about food for the same reason we read about it: sheer pleasure and lighthearted fascination. The big questions are just seasoning for the soup.”

The Guardian
“What new intellectual vistas remain to be conquered by the food obsessive? . . . The erudite and witty food writer Bee Wilson has spotted a gap in the market. . . . [Her] argument is clear and persuasive.”

“Wilson celebrates the unsung implements that have helped shape our diets through the centuries. After devouring this delightful mix of culinary science and history, you'll never take a whisk for granted again.”

Wall Street Journal
“In the case of Bee Wilson’s “Consider the Fork,” the author is blessed with an assemblage of entertaining tidbits and particularly lucid prose.... Wilson is a good tour guide.... [A] dizzying, entertaining ride.”

Harper’s Magazine
“Bee Wilson’s delightful Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat does talk about the fork, but that’s just one part of her ebulliently written and unobtrusively learned survey of the tools we have used to prepare, preserve, and consume our food.”

The Spectator (London)
Consider the Fork is a delightful compendium of the tools, techniques and cultures of cooking and eating. Be it a tong or a chopstick, a runcible spoon or a cleaver, Bee Wilson approaches it with loving curiosity and thoroughness…. But as well as providing wry insights into the psychology of cooks down the ages, Consider the Fork is infused with a sense that every omelette, cup of coffee, meringue or tea cake is steeped in tradition and ancient knowledge, and that that is partly what makes cooking one of life’s joys.”

The Daily Beast
“A book to keep at your side as you cook. Consider the fork. It’s a piercing, sharp weapon associated with the Devil. How did this unlikely tool become the West’s most popular and indispensable utensil? Wilson serves up brisk histories of everything you use in the kitchen.”

Christian Science Monitor
“Wilson is an award-winning British food writer who skillfully turns a potentially dull subject into one of wit and wisdom. Nor does she lose touch with the human element that has drawn so many into the world of cooking and the universal subject of food. After all, a knife is only as good as the cook who wields it…. Wilson packs Consider the Fork with as many bits of cultural history trivia as an overstuffed utensil drawer.”

Barnes & Noble Review
“If you are open to being entertained and instructed by the history of food, then Bee Wilson couldn’t be happier to oblige. In Consider the Fork, she explores the ways in which kitchen tools and techniques affect what and how we eat, with the same owlish brio and dry humor that Jane Grigson brought to vegetables and charcuterie…. [A] smart, regaling survey.”

New Statesman
"Endlessly fascinating."

Roanoke Times
“Like a well-planned meal, Consider the Fork provides a variety of fare that will entertain and educate foodies of any variety…. The result of [Wilson’s] combination of sophisticated humor and scholarship is an enjoyable tale about the very essence of existence and civilization.”

New York Post
“At the risk of trotting out a cliché, Brit writer Wilson's book truly is food for thought. (And fun to read, too).”

Mail on Sunday
“Substantial and entertaining…. Bee Wilson belongs to a rare breed: the academic who can write. This book is dense with research, all of it rendered highly palatable…. The history comes in delicious nuggets of the kind that one immediately wants to pass around in conversation.”

Observer (London)
“Like all the best books on apparently simple everyday commodities, this is of course really a gripping story of millennia of human ingenuity. Over the centuries the need to eat has led us to develop an astonishing plethora of niche skills and equipment, has made of eating itself a highly sophisticated act of pleasure as well as survival. . . . Witty, scholarly, utterly absorbing and fired by infectious curiosity, Consider the Fork wears its impressive research lightly.”

Daily Mail (London)
“Wilson’s tour of the kitchen explores all the essential elements of domestic cookery through the ages. She peers into the kitchen cupboards of the past to scrutinise the pots and pans our ancestors used to contain their food, and the knives with which they used to cut it…. Wilson’s book is diligently researched and she has a sharp eye for a vivid historical detail.”

The Sunday Times (London)
“This [is a] sparkling… fascinating and entertaining book…. In considering the fork, in short, [Wilson] forces us to reconsider ourselves.”

Shelf Awareness
“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. . . . 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.”

Smithsonian Magazine
“Bee Wilson’s spirited history of kitchen implements ranges from the humble wooden spoon to the cutting-edge sous vide machine. A British food writer and historian, Wilson is learned and personal, wise and charming…. There are complex investigations at work in Wilson’s book; it’s nominally about things in our cabinets and on our shelves, but it’s really about family, labor, technology, sensation…. From such ingredients an enchanting book is made.”

Richard Wrangham, author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
“A fast-paced and mind-opening investigation into the quirky stories behind our daily interactions with food.”

Paul Levy, editor of The Penguin Book of Food and Drink
“I was so enthralled by Bee Wilson’s new book that I found it hard to put down. As always she is a completely reliable guide to her subject, and this history of how we cook and eat is full of surprises—how human table manners have changed our bodies, and how technological changes can affect our personal tastes in food. Her authority is complete, her scholarship lightly worn, and her writing terrific.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Some of humanity’s least sung but most vital gadgets are celebrated in this delicious history of cooking technology. . . . Wilson is erudite and whip-smart, but she always grounds her exploration of technological change in the perspective of the eternal harried cook—she’s been one—struggling to put a meal on the table. This is mouthwatering history: broad in scope, rich in detail, stuffed with savory food for thought.” 

John Donohue, editor of Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families“Bee Wilson’s surprising history of common kitchen tools makes for a roiling read that’s certain to be enjoyed by anyone with any interest in cooking or eating.”

Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University, and author of What to Eat

Consider the Fork is a terrific delve into the history and modern use of kitchen tools so familiar that we take them for granted and never give them a thought.  Bee Wilson places kitchen gadgets in their rich cultural context.  I, for one, will never think about spoons, measuring cups, eggbeaters, or chopsticks in the same way again."

Margaret Visser, author of Much Depends on Dinner
“Mind meets kitchen: Bee Wilson sizes up every kitchen implement from the wooden spoon to the ergonomic Microplane, and gives us its history, including versions that led up to each object but did not survive for lack of fitness.  Her climax is the kitchen, the room itself, the affluent modern version of which has never been ‘so highly designed; so well equipped; so stylish; or so empty.’ She conducts us on a sobering, entertaining, and instructive tour.” 

Kirkus Reviews
“In the lively prose of a seasoned journalist, Wilson blends personal reminiscences with well-researched history to illustrate how the changing nature of our equipment affects what we eat and how we cook. . . .  Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.”

Claudia Roden
“This scholarly and witty book, packed full of fascinating information and thrilling insights, is as enlightening as it is a joy to read.”

Nigella Lawson
“I love Bee Wilson’s writing.”

Discover Magazine
“In this culinary history, food journalist Bee Wilson shifts the focus from the foods people ate to the technology behind their preparation, tracing how humble kitchen implements such as forks, whisks, pots, and stoves shaped our diets, our societies, and our bodies. In Wilson’s hands, even hot water becomes interesting.”

Booklist, Starred Review
“At every turn, Wilson’s history of the technology of cooking and eating upends another unexamined tradition, revealing that utensils and practices now taken for granted in kitchen and at table have long and remarkable histories. . . . Wilson’s

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046502176X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021765
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (232 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2012
Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought I would love this book; it's the kind of thing that's usually right up my alley, and I enjoyed her "Swindled: the Dark History of Food Fraud." But "Consider the Fork" just couldn't hold my interest. In addition to the shortcomings mentioned by other reviewers (repetitions, dry writing, and jumping from subject to unrelated subject), there were several factual errors that made me wonder what else was wrong that I didn't know enough to catch, and I can't enjoy a non-fiction book when I'm questioning whether I can trust what I'm reading.

Besides there being two pints in a quart and how the length of a mile was determined (as another reviewer here mentioned), Wilson writes that Handel composed his "Water Music" during the Restoration of Charles II, when in fact Handel wasn't even born then. George I and II were Handel's kings. I can hardly believe a British author would make that mistake, but even worse, how did her editors not catch it?

Wilson explains Americans' supposed "zig-zag" style of eating as (I'm paraphrasing, since I don't have the book in front of me) "The meat is cut completely into lots of little bits and then the fork zigs and zags all over the plate stabbing and picking them up," which is ludicrous. Even if we do switch our fork from side to side (many of us don't), we still know that etiquette dictates that we cut only one bite at a time. The actual reason this style of eating is so called is because we put down the knife after cutting each bite and switch the fork back to the right hand to pick it up and eat it; i.e., the fork zigs and zags from one hand to the other. And I wonder if it was really Emily Post who dubbed it "zig-zag eating"? Who can tell, since Wilson got so much else wrong?
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Format: Hardcover
What did you have for breakfast today? Or more importantly how did you prepare it? I bet several kitchen appliances have been put to good use. Pans and knives, measuring and grinding, fire and ice (or rather, stove and fridge) - Consider The Fork by Bee Wilson isn't your ordinary guide into the history of food, but into the world of implements and technology inside the kitchen. It's not about what but how we eat, and if you find this to be a trivial topic, think again, because it's most certainly not. I promise, after reading this book you will never look at your spoon the same way again!
Skillfully the author weaves a tapestry of her own observations while cooking, mixing it with fascinating excursions into history, effortlessly seguing from everyday snapshots to the distant past. Thoroughly researched and wonderfully detailed, but even more so, engrossingly and smoothly written, this book is literally a real treat for everyone even remotely interested into a look at the technology behind everything we eat. As unimportant as the equipment of a kitchen may seem compared to the history of food itself, I was both surprised and delighted by this book. I have always had a great appreciation for books presenting a slightly different angle on historical aspects of things, and this one catered to my taste (pun intended) just perfectly.
In short: A mesmerizing and beautifully written journey into the world of kitchen utensils!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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