I’ve read a lot of food history over the years, and some cooking history as well. While this book deals with both food and cooking, it is instead a history of kitchen implements. Wilson asks the question of why we use specific cooking and eating tools. Why a fork? Why an oven? Why a Keurig or balloon whisk or wooden spoon? The micro-histories of pots, knives, cans, ovens, and even kitchens themselves are discussed in terms of their evolution through culture and innovation.
Until this book popped up as a daily deal at Audible, I’d never even heard of it. I bought it on a whim, fully prepared to return it if I didn’t fall in love. Instead, I fell absolutely in love. This book was fascinating! I learned so much – far more than I could ever put into a review – and beyond the facts, I loved hearing about the various ways cultures and time periods affected our view of manners and etiquette. I’ve said before: I’m not a cook. I can cook, and in fact I can cook really well, with all the right instincts. But I don’t enjoy cooking one bit. Yet, this book made me feel at moments that maybe I could like cooking? (It’s not going to happen, but props to any author who can make me entertain the notion!)
Wilson discusses her own history in the kitchen throughout the book, starting the introduction with a rhapsody about the wooden spoon with which she cooks. My husband (the cook 95% of the time in our house) uses wooden spoons, but I personally can’t stand the things. I can’t make them work right in a pot or pan. I grew up using plastic spoons and spatulas, and still do. Wilson’s introduction got me thinking about the whys of this, and how it really comes down to nostalgia and how one learned to cook. A wooden or melamine or whatever spoon just feels right. My kids, notably, cook with both kinds – best of both worlds there!
It made me think: what are the things I absolutely need in my kitchen? You have the usual (stove/oven, fridge, probably a microwave for heating things up, cutlery and place settings), but what else for me specifically? What do I need beyond those things? My electric kettle, coffee grinder, and pour-over for coffee. I have a French press and an Italian Moka Pot but I almost never use them. The pour-over is my go-to. The kettle is awesome because my kids also use it to make ramen or tea. (Also, Wilson talked about heating water to boiling in the kettle before pouring into a pan for cooking, something I’d never thought of doing before!) Besides coffee stuff, I must have my toaster oven (particularly for warming up most foods – I use it more than the microwave), my plastic cooking spoons/spatulas, a rice cooker, and my double-thick cotton crocheted potholders. Every kitchen will look different, though. Most have a toaster, rather than a toaster oven, whereas we haven’t owned a toaster since 2005. I also never had a rice cooker growing up and was only introduced to that later in life, whereas my boys name the rice cooker as the most essential thing they need for going to college. Jason would be lost without the Kitchen Aid we got for our wedding, though I think I’ve used that beast less than half a dozen times in the last eighteen years. Jason prefers pans without nonstick coating, I prefer them as nonstick as possible.
Another thing I thought about as I read was the difference in how food is eaten in different parts of the world. I’m not a highly seasoned traveler, but I’ve lived in France and I spent some time in Palestine. During my time in France, meals were eaten in courses: bread and salad; soup; main course; yogurt. In Palestine, we sat on floor cushions for communal meals served on giant platters. We picked up morsels of meat and vegetable with bread, or spooned – yes, spooned – chunks off the small whole roast chickens mixed in with rice. Even in the US, I’ve seen vastly different approaches to dinner. My family, for instance, keeps the food in the kitchen and only individual plates are brought to the table. My in-laws instead bring all the food to the table and pass it around, so that people can continually grab from bowls as the meal progresses. Of course there are many other ways to eat, both in the US and around the world, and learning about the differences in food culture (cooking and eating) was one of my favorite parts of Consider the Fork.
This review is somewhat scattered. That’s because there’s just so much packed into this little book, and I kinda want to geek out about every single thing. I’m so glad I took a chance to buy this audiobook.
Performance: Consider the Fork is narrated by Alison Larkin. This is the only thing I’ve ever listened to narrated by Larkin, but she could easily be a contender for one of my favorite readers. She read the whole thing as if she were telling a story rather than reciting a history, which worked perfectly for the writing style of the book. I’m never good with in-print nonfiction, so I always appreciate a decent audio performance, and this was more than decent. It was awesome.