As they say in Italy, Italians were eating with a knife and fork when the French were still eating each other. The Medici family had to bring their Tuscan cooks up there so they could make something edible.
Mario Batali, American Chef
Before you read any further, I want you to rummage through all your favorite baby photos and find the one where that precious baby’s face is loaded with food. Y’all know the one; food smeared from ear to ear and forehead to chin. Just keep it handy
This episode is about the fork. Yep, who knew the fork had a history? I sure didn’t till I looked it up. Historians have proposed that the history of forks lay deep within ancient Greek history, yep, NO ancient Rome this time.
Forks were not used in Italy until the late 16th century, introduced by the Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice. Long before they reached Italian shores, the royal houses throughout the Middle East used cutlery.
Tilly: useful for puncturing possible enemies?
Olive: Maybe, but not a lot of damage considering how they dressed then.
From Italy to France in the mid-1500s, the fork continued its journey but still not widely accepted, due in part to the curse placed on them by a Cardinal within the Catholic Church. He believed they were the work of the devil, stating, the good Lord had provided the perfect utensil to eat with – your fingers.
Tilly: obviously, he couldn’t perfect the technique. Must have been a wow chop sticks.
Olive: Chop Sticks, now you have me confused.
It was the fashion of the day to see which of the female guest ate more delicately with her fingers in the belief she’d make the better wife. No, I am not kidding, folks.
Tilly: Mmm … some sympathy with that – having seen the table manners and chewing habits of some, I’d opt for delicate, too.
Olive: You need a trip to the south where I am from, no delegacies here. Not when you are eating with your fingers.
Tilly: Nothing wrong with eating with your fingers … but gob open and spraying masticated fodder can be offputting.
So just when did the fork hit the merry island of England? Well, you have Thomas Coryat to thank for that. Touring Italy in 1608, he brought a pair back to England. The English weren’t too keen on forks finding them not just ugly but “effeminate and unnecessary,” asking, “Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?”
Tilly – tricky with soup or custard? Carving forks are probably the legacy of this original two-pronged fork, d’you think?
Olive: Damn we have to quit this. We are in agreement again.
Tilly: Ah, the harmony of consensus. Maybe we should move into politics …
The fork won and they, of course, became the rage throughout the land. People still found them tiresome because the food fell between the two tines. However, leave it to France y’all for solving this problem. The late 17th century saw a reinvention of what would become today’s modern fork. The French made the forks larger and added four curved tines. This made everyone happy through all the land, including England, which had by then fully accepted the fork.
Tilly: the knife was used a lot to pick up food. Properly, cheese should be eaten using a knife, none of this knife-and-fork stuff considered superior by the French.
Olive: “With a knife” what are you drinking? You could cut your tongue off.
Tilly: Don’t be daft – you don’t put the knife into your mouth – just take the piece of cheese off the end of the blade! And then have some red wine to complement the cheese …
By the end of the 1700s, the fork as we know it today had spread to the new colonies of America. We did not like them, but we had them.
Some still argue over the fork even today. Mothers yell at their children, “Stop eating with your hands, why do you think forks were invented?”
Tilly: to chase peas or corn around the plate?
Olive: Not to mention stab chunks of meat.
In closing, take a look at the adorable baby picture of food smeared ear to ear and forehead to chin and super impose the picture of Elizabeth, the First of England. Why? The fork was introduced well after her death in 1603. Therefore, Elizabeth ate with her hands.
Tilly: Manifestly not daintily, for she never married.
Olive: Which is why I mentioned the above visual.
Makes you smile, doesn’t it? Trivia here. There are 34 different forks in use today. In some areas of the United States, they were sometimes called “split spoons.”
Tilly: I thought that was why the Spork came about – to make it easier for Americans to use …
Olive: The spork was invented so we Americans could send them to England, so y’all would quit eating with your hands and playing with your food.
Tilly: Nice try, Olive. The spork was devised so Americans can eat salad easily and to help with eating at events such as barbecues, when holding a plate with one hand. Easier to spear/scoop one-handed.
Olive and Tilly