Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

In the last chapter of Consider the Fork, author Bee Wilson writes, “Our kitchens are filled with ghosts.” It’s a fitting conclusion. As the book progresses, the reader realizes just how true the statement is; each apparatus that we use has a now-outmoded predecessor. Our ovens were predated by pots hanging over open fires; before kitches were equipped with hourglasses or clocks, recipes instructed cooks to “simmer for three Ave Marias.” Wilson’s exhaustively-researched history of food technology, which involved trips to museums and visits to food gurus all over the world, is stuffed with similar tidbits that will make you look at such everyday objects as a balloon whisk and a coffee grinder as nearly magical.

It would be easy for this kind of microhistory to be presented as the sort of anecdotal ephemera that only social historians and potential Jeopardy! contestants should be truly interested and invested in. But Wilson works hard to emphasize that this stuff is important to everyone who has a kitchen. Kitchens have historically been (and still are) the heart of their households, and they aren’t just about food. They are about technology and everything that comes with it, from the initial fear and ridicule of change (refrigeration was once derided as a way for greengrocers to overcharge for rotting vegetables) to its eventual acceptance.

I really loved the way this book was organized – it seemed counterintuitive at first to have a chapter about pots and pans before a chapter about fire. But learning about the nonlinear way that kitchen technology has unfolded is almost as much fun as the social history and facts you’ll chew on (pun intended!) while reading.

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