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Yesterday, whilst listening to Radio 4, I heard a report that said that scientists have found that the kind of cutlery we use influences the way food tastes; cheese tastes saltier straight from a knife, whilst dessert on a smaller spoon tastes sweeter. I mention this because I found it interesting but also it made me think of the relevance of this book which gets examines the way that the implements we use in our kitchen affect our relationship with food and even our even our evolution. "Consider the Fork" by Bee Wilson is perhaps one of the most informative and memorable non-fiction books I have ever read, and it's certainly made me think twice when in my kitchen, the items we have in one of our most used rooms have in some cases hundreds of years of history behind them, a history through which the author of this book guides us in a gentle, educational but entertaining manner.
It's really hard to define what kind book this is, it is part history, part voyage of discovery of other foods other cultures, part history and part commentary on the food we eat today. Bee Wilson is as comfortable talking about Jamie Oliver as she is informing us about medieval ways of turning roast beef. The book in some ways jumps all over the place, but it's broken up into 8 sections with smaller chapters within them, from one called "knife" to another on "Ice" through to "kitchen", and this makes for continuitiy . Every aspect of food and our relationship with it is considered and by the end of the book you really do come to realise that food and our ways of dealing with it are at the heart of who we are, after all the first humans became more than animals when they started to use tools and it's something we have done ensuring our place at the top of the food chain throughout time.
I enjoyed finding out some interesting facts, that the humble tin was invented a whole 50 years before the can opener (before that a chisel and hammer was de rigeur) and discovering out the impact that new tools had and have on our very make up; apparently the overbite evolved mainly due to our changing eating habits, there is a whole history to learn here, along with quite a few cooking tips - I didn't know for example how to use flour to find the hot spots in pans, and I liked the fact that the author didn't assume we are all perfect cooks and admits herself to burning things and not owning a perfect array of appliances. She seems to have a real knowledge of her subject and a passion for it, I found the sections where she spoke about meeting and cooking with Ivan Day, a foodie who collects old implements and cooks only by fire with interesting results, fascinating, she clearly has a real affection for him. In other parts of the book she was more critical, explaining why she thinks the American Cup system of measuring is unworkable - whatever the topic matter for me, as a cook she has me more hooked than I would have thought I could be possibly be by a book about cooking items!
At 360 pages this is not a particularly short book, but for anyone who has an interest in cooking it makes for very interesting reading, and having read this cover to cover I can safely say I will never look at my kitchen, or the tools in it, in the same way again. Bee Wilson's intelligent, chatty style kept me engaged through the history of kitchen gadgets, appliances and the kitchen itself, and I found it absolutely fascinating. Highly recommended.
Link to report on food and cutlery: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23051517
I read the hardback version of this book, currently £12.80 on amazon, book released October 2012