For thousands of years, food was cooked over an open fire. In the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution drastically changed several aspects of European lifestyle, including cooking. Gas, electricity, microwaves and induction gradually replaced fire. Technological developments have led to the creation of new utensils, especially in the field of molecular cooking.
Cooking methods of the past
For thousands of years, food was cooked over an open fire. In medieval Europe, the kitchen was part of the main living area of farmers’ modest dwellings. The fireplace was often directly on the earthen floor, under an opening in the roof to allow smoke to escape. Only wealthier homes had a specific room in which to prepare meals, with one or more fireplaces and sometimes an oven. Illustrations taken from Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook Opera dell’arte del cucinare (1570) give exceptional insight into how kitchens ran in 16th-century upper-class homes. The kitchens depicted are equipped with brick hearths, running water over a sink, raised fireplaces and a mechanical rotisserie.
From the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution radically changed cooking practices. The arrival of the coal-fired oven, followed by gas stoves and finally electric cookers made chefs’ work a lot easier.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, upper-class kitchens began to work according to a strict hierarchy. At the beginning of the 20th century, the renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier reformed working methods by organising the roles of kitchen staff into a brigade system. His book, Ma Cuisine, published in 1907, laid the foundations for modern French culinary art.
At the same time, new technologies were gradually becoming more widespread. The Household Arts Show was created in Paris in 1923 to promote new appliances among the population and encourage households to adopt gas stoves and then, in the 1930s, electric stoves. The latter half of the century witnessed the arrival of microwave ovens and induction hobs. Refrigerators became part of homes in the 1950s.
Great advances in kitchen utensils
Kitchen tools were still few and far between around the hearth of modest homes during the Industrial Revolution. Stockpots and cauldrons were suspended from a rack while iron tripods were used to support terracotta pots. Grills and spits were only found in wealthier homes.
Over the centuries, basic utensils such as chopping boards, colanders, whisks, long spoons, skimmers used to filter and strain and pestles and mortars have evolved very little, albeit in terms of the materials used to make them. Some tools, such as the sugar grater, are no longer used today while others, such as the whisk, have evolved thanks to new techniques.
The late 19th century saw the appearance of a host of appliances with mechanisms for cutting, peeling, pitting, and grating as well as ever more sophisticated small tools, such as the vegetable peeler.
In the 1930s, most homes began to have access to electricity, marking the dawn of electrical appliances in domestic kitchens.
How some kitchen utensils have evolved
The pastry brush has been used for centuries to baste meat or glaze pastries. Originally a tuft of silk bristles, modern versions are now made from brightly coloured silicone.
Whisks have been used for centuries, to mix ingredients or incorporate air into a mixture. The first whisks were simple bundles of twigs tied together at one end. Nowadays, most kitchens boast mechanical whisks, electric whisks and blenders.
Other utensils such as zesters, crank handle flour sieves, egg cutters, and measuring tools are constantly being redesigned. Although they still serve the same purpose, innovation has made them more efficient or more user-friendly.
Syringes and pipettes, gas emulsifiers and silicone tubes are new tools used in molecular cuisine.
SCHÄRER, Martin R et RABOUD-SCHÜLE, Isabelle, 1995. Histoires d’objets. Vevey : Nestec S.A.
BIRLOUEZ, Eric, 2001. À la table des seigneurs, des moines et des paysans du Moyen Âge. Rennes : Édition Ouest-France.
SCAPPI, Bartolomeo, 1981 (première édition 1570). Opera dell’arte del cucinare. Calderara di Reno : Arnaldo Forni editore.
Maître Chiquart, Histoire de la cuisine et de la gastronomie en Europe 2002-2006 [en ligne]. Oldcook.com. [Consulté le 26 février 2016]. Disponible à l’adresse : http://www.oldcook.com/histoire-gastronomie
Citadelle, 2001. Les ustensiles et la pratique de la cuisine [en ligne]. 2001. [Consulté le 29 février 2016]. Disponible à l’adresse : http://old.citadelle.org/magazine-6-58-Les-Ustensiles-et-la-pratique-de-la-cuisine.cfm