A Brief History of Culinary Tools


Consider the Fork book cover

This is a review of a book I read last year: "Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat" by Bee Wilson, a British food writer. I picked it up not really knowing what to expect. What I found was a fascinating look at how cooking and eating have changed so much over the centuries, based on the current technology of individual cultures. Ms. Wilson writes a food column in the Wall Street Journal and I always learn something new from her. A recent article explores our cravings for mushrooms.

Tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs on cutting board

Every recipe has its own family tree- some going back hundreds or even thousands of years ago. The knife, spoon and bowl go back for millennia (the fork came later and wasn't widely adopted over a span of decades.)

using chop sticks in a bowlThe history of chop sticks is also interesting and the two stories are intertwined.

 The eight chapters cover the history of pots and pans, the knife, heat sources, measuring instruments grinding implements, eating utensils, food presentation and kitchen design. She puts the evolution of eating and cooking into historical perspective. There are little gems of culinary knowledge throughout the book.

“Timing boiled eggs is almost the only practical occasion in which we still use the medieval technology of the hourglass . . . If hourglass egg timers endure, it is surely because of their symbolic value: to watch the sands of time running out is still a powerful thing.” 

She has also written 2 books on what we eat now and how to eat well, a book on how we learn to eat, and two global histories of sandwiches and cheeses. "How to Jug a Hare" traces the rise of celebrity chefs back to 1889 at the Savoy Hotel where the renown Auguste Escoffier ran the kitchen.
"Swindled: A Dark History of Food Fraud" explores the ways that some foods are not what they seem, and "The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us" discusses the relationship between honeybees and humans.
Bee keeper holding up a tray full of honeybees
The longer we work on finding new audiences for The Nicer Slicer, the more I see how preparing and eating food is really connected to so many other areas of life. The Nutrition Archive is a blog about nutrition, food politics and how culture affects food and how food affects culture. A biweekly podcast, gastropod.com, focuses on "food with a side of science and history." 

Who are your favorite food writers and which food blogs do you follow? We'd love to hear your comments.

"You don't need a silver fork to eat good food." Paul Prudhomme

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