History of the Fork

If you think about one of the most ubiquitous things in cuisine, the fork is one of the first things that comes to mind, after a knife, possibly chopsticks and a spoon.  Oddly enough though, the fork only made its journey into Europe and the Americas through marriages, being the subject of heavy criticism until the late 1800s.

While the concept of the fork has been known for a very long time, (Poseidon was famous for swinging one around) the actual use of the fork as an implement to aid consumption didn’t happen until around 600 AD.  The fork was used largely as a cooking aid, mainly to hold a hot slab of meat without using bare hands, the fork basically looked like a little two pronged spear.  Egyptians and Byzantines were the first to begin to use the tool at diner tables by the wealthy as a means to prove their wealth and etiquette.

It wasn’t until 1004 when Maria Argyropoulina, a Byzantine princess of sorts, married the Doge of Venice that the fork showed up in Central Europe.  She whipped out her set of gold forks at the wedding feast and ate her meal with forks, much to the chagrin of the entire Venetian court.  Priests went bonkers and complained that God gave men NATURAL forks in the form of hands and that using the metal implements was spitting in the face of God’s creations.  Two years later, Maria died from the plague and St.Peter Damian wrote that her death was God’s punishment for her vanity and lavishness.  Slowly, forks began to work their way into Italian eateries, largely used by the wealthy to skewer candied fruits that were syrup-ed enough that they would stain fingers without a utensil (used by the wealthy and by high caliber courtesans, further pressing the Church to associate forks with all things vain and sinful).  In 1533, Catherine De Medici brought the fork to France from Venice when she married Henry II, spreading the tool to Western Europe. In the 1560s during the turmoil that followed in Henry’s death, Catherine was said to travel around France hosting dinner parties with the rival factions to force them to her table.  She created etiquette rules that would force the leaders to sit down to diplomatic and polite dinners.

The fork got another legendary win in the 1660s, when Cardinal Richelieu (the villain from Dumas’ Three Musketeers) supposedly became aggravated with a dinner guest who would pick his teeth with a knife at the table.  Richelieu had all the tips of the knives filed down, forcing a new tool to be needed to stab and skewer foods.  Even if Richelieu wasn’t the reason for it, in 1669, Louis XIV declared it illegal to bring a pointed knife to a dining table for reasons of the violence pointed metal potentially does.  At that point in time France was the apex of high society, so when France abolished pointy knives, everyone did.  Across the ocean, Americans of the 1700s began to struggle with the sudden lack of pointed knives for dining.  Americans instead used a spoon in their left hand to hold down the object while they sawed it apart, then swapped the spoon to the right hand to pick up the food and eat it.  Rather than simply cave to the power of the fork, some Americans held onto their practice of “zigzagging” well into the mid 1800s.  A native of Maine groused that “Eating peas with a fork is as bad as trying to eat soup with a knitting needle.” in 1824; and few Americans used the fork until the World Fair of 1851, where the European high society brought the fork with them, and rather than look like country bumpkins, many Americans took to using the tined tool.  That said, British Sailors didn’t use forks until around 1897 because they were “unmanly”.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, like how God frowns when you grab a salad fork.

Citations, for the Fork of it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/design/2012/06/the_history_of_the_fork_when_we_started_using_forks_and_how_their_design_changed_over_time_.html
http://www.hospitalityguild.com/History/history_of_the_fork.htm
http://leitesculinaria.com/1157/writings-the-uncommon-origins-of-the-common-fork.html
http://www.themiddleages.net/life/fork.html
http://www.foodreference.com/html/art-history-fork-729.html

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