Ever wonder the origin of what you’re
sticking in your mouth?
The likelihood is that you haven’t and I can’t blame you in your ignorance – it’s truthfully not the most fascinating subject, but I think it’s still rather interesting.
The first fork was brought back to England by a fellow called Thomas Coryate from his travels to Italy in 1608. The English laughed off the fork at first, rumoured to have claimed, "Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?". Still, the reluctant-towards-change English upper-class soon adopted the fork into their dinning ritual. They actually became prized possessions made of expensive materials intended to impress guests. They quickly became dining luxuries and thus markers of social status and sophistication among nobles.
“I say, what a grand device you have here, Lord Pettlebottom. I must acquire one! I will be envy of every gentleman in the district to hold one made of gold!”
The English to me have always liked to show off; grander is better, appeared to be the case in most instances. It looked as if their cutlery was no exception.
Small, slender-handled forks with two tines were generally used for desserts or sweet, sticky foods. Like the foods with berries and such which were likely to stain ones fingers.
Dinner or meat forks were modelled after general kitchen forks with two fairly long and widely spaced tines ensuring that meat would not twist while being cut. However it became rather annoying as small pieces of food regularly fell through the tines and could land in ones lap. Hardly classy, no matter how pretty the fork. Therefore later that century, larger forks with four curved tines were developed. The additional tines made diners less likely to drop food, and the curved tines served as a scoop so people didn’t have to constantly switch to a spoon while eating. What a bother that would have been!
Knives, as I am sure will be little surprise to most of you, had been used as weapons, tools, and eating utensils since prehistoric times. However, it was only in fairly recent times that knives have been designed specifically for table use. Apparently, hosts did not provide cutlery for their guests during the Middle Ages in Europe. Most people carried their own knives in sheaths attached to their belts. These knives were long and narrow with sharply pointed ends used to spear food and then raise it to one's mouth. Yum, yum!
However, long after knives were adopted for table use, they continued to be used as weapons. In other words, the multi-purpose nature of the knife always posed the conceivable threat of danger at the dinner table. I’m sure all of us can attest to sitting at a business dinner and feeling a knife or two etched with our names in it.
Nevertheless, once forks began to gain popular acceptance, (forks being more efficient for spearing food), there was no longer any need for a pointed tip at the end of a dinner knife. In my research it made me chuckle to read that in 1669, King Louis XIV of France decreed all pointed knives on the street or the dinner table illegal, and he had all knife points ground down like those to the right in order to reduce violence. I wonder how many knives had his name on them?
While the above is only a small snippet into the shiny things beside our dinner plates, I wonder how many of you will peer around your dinner table tonight. Hopefully your guests or family don’t hold any ill will your way.
Be kind to each other....
References: The History of Eating Utensils