From British food writer Wilson (Sandwich: A Global History, 2010, etc.), a savory survey of kitchen implements and their impact.
We normally apply the word “technology” to military and industrial equipment, writes the author, but in fact, developments in those fields often carry over to the kitchen. The inventor of stainless steel was trying to improve gun barrels, and the creator of the microwave oven was working on naval radar systems. In addition, innovations in cookware can have enormous social impact: Before food was cooked in a pot, people who lost their teeth and couldn’t chew literally starved to death. 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. “Knife” explores the difference between Western eaters, who cut big pieces of cooked food at the table, and the Chinese wielders of a tou, who chop up food into equal-sized pieces to be quickly cooked, saving energy in a country with limited fuel. “Fire” traces the evolution from open hearths to enclosed stoves, which brought women into the professional kitchen after centuries when their billowing skirts posed too much of a fire hazard for them to serve as cooks. In “Grind,” Wilson notes that the endless labor involved in producing smooth, highly refined food wasn’t an issue in a world where middle-class and wealthy Europeans had lots of servants; Wilson praises the Cuisinart as a revolutionary device “for the transformation of cooking from pain to pleasure.” Although she enjoys and vividly describes time-honored, painstaking methods of cooking, she also appreciates modern conveniences. Eating utensils, refrigeration and measurement (with a bemused look at Americans’ affection for measuring by volume as opposed to the much more accurate method of weighing) are among the other topics Wilson addresses in a narrative whose light tone enlivens formidable scholarship.
Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.