Who Made That Whisk?
By PAGAN KENNEDY for the NYTimes


whisk 
In 1963, Julia Child appeared on a television show called “I’ve Been Reading,” to promote her book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” While most guests chatted primly about their new releases, Child brandished a bulb-shaped whisk and then performed magic, inflating egg whites into snowy peaks of foam. “She told the audience that you needed a soft balloon whisk if you were trying to get air into a meringue, and a stiff whisk for mixing,” says Stephanie Hersh, who worked as Child’s assistant for 16 years. After Child’s bravura performance that day — 27 viewers wrote in to the station to demand more — she was given her own show and became one of America’s most-recognized TV celebrities. The whisk, with its soignée curves and the jazz-brush sound it made in the bowl, proved to be just as telegenic.


Of course, Julia Child did not invent this kitchen tool. Its origins can be traced to a handful of twigs. In the 1600s, European cooks improvised with wood brushes – one early recipe calls for a beating with a “big birch rod.” And by the 19th century, the gadget-loving Victorians popularized the wire whisk, which was just coming into vogue. Still, Child deserves credit for teaching American homemakers how to buy the right whisk and wield it with a snap of the wrist. “Before Julia, we used that little egg beater — the one that you wind up — or a fork to beat egg whites,” Alice Waters told me via e-mail. “My family never had a whisk.”

Waters went on to say that she procured some of her first whisks from Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma, who outfitted cooks for their maiden adventures with soufflés during the ’60s and ’70s. He “brought in a lot of things that were recommended by Julia,” Waters noted.

As for Child herself, she collected whisks during her travels. “Any size, shape, color, she wanted to try it,” Hersh says. “She had hundreds of everything — vegetable peelers, ladles, whisks, you name it. She was a freak about utensils.”

WHISKED INTO THE PAST

Alexandra Cervenak, a historical interpreter at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, spends her days cooking in the style of a 1627 housewife.

How do you fluff up eggs? I usually use my knife. But there’s one recipe from the 17th century — or “receipt,” as they called it back then — that says you should mix stuff together with your hands.

So hands were the first whisk? Yeah, I suppose so!

It sounds as if you end up using your knife for everything. I do. Yesterday we had a little get-together of interpreters, a potluck. We were all reaching for the knives at our waists. Even when we’re not in costume, we keep wanting to use the knife. It’s like a phantom limb.

Of course, in a 17th-century settlement, you wouldn’t own many tools made of metal — so a whisk would have been unthinkable. Yes, anything that would have been made from metal, like a knife, would have to come out of England.

Read story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/magazine/who-made-that-whisk.html?ref=magazine&_r=0

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