This week, for reasons that are surely clear, I found myself wondering when the whisk was invented. For a clue to that I started checking into the history of egg foams generally. I found that while people have been eating eggs forever, and binding ingredients with them for at least 2,500 years, egg foams haven’t been common in cookery until very recently. I’d have thought that with all those centuries of fiddling around with eggs, somebody somewhere would have figured out it was possible to whip them up into a foam. Yet there aren’t any written records of it, which would seem to indicate that what ancient cooks lacked were the tools and know-how to make foams consistently. The key tool — the whisk — didn’t appear until about 1650.
The first whisks were, not surprisingly, sticks. Tough, flexible branches broken off sapling trees that were, for the sheer force they brought to bear on a bowl of egg whites, probably superior to modern whisks. Yet it takes more than brute force to make a good foam, which is why small bundles of twigs and/or straw were eventually employed. They incorporated far more air into the whites, and certainly whipped up eggs and/or egg whites much faster. Modern wire whisks weren’t common in kitchens until the latter half of the 19th Century. Who knew?