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Q: How long ago were forks invented and why?
A What we see on our dinner table today, the knife, spoon, fork and napkin has only been in popular use for around 250 years. The earliest use of a table fork dates back to the 7th Century royal courts of the Middle East. From the 10th through the 13th century forks were fairly common among the wealthy in Byzantium.
Other parts of the world were less enamored with the fork. Hands were primarily used for tearing food apart and eating, often wiping them on their clothes and later wiping them on the tablecloth. I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been to clean those large tablecloths without a washing machine and spot cleaner for all the wine stains.
In 1533 forks were brought from Italy to France when Catherine DeMedici came to live in the French courts as the wife of Henry II. For the French, like the Italians, using them was thought to be an affectation. In 1560, according to a French manners book, different customs evolved in different European countries. “For eating soup, Germans are known for using spoons, Italians are known for using forks, primarily to spear things out of the soup and then drinking the rest out of the bowl.” The Italians are also thought to have used the fork earlier to twirl long noodles around it and facilitate eating.
Thomas Coryate is credited for bringing the first forks to England in 1611. It was ridiculed as being effeminate and unnecessary. Many British clergymen were vehemently opposed to forks, believing that only human fingers were worthy of touching God’s food. Often, when someone died after having used a fork, these clergymen preached that it was God’s way of showing His displeasure over the use of such a shocking novelty.
Forks gradually became adopted by the wealthy and became prized possessions, showing off their status to guests. By the mid 1600s wealthy, fashionable British nobles used forks for sticky foods or foods such as berries which were likely to stain the fingers.
Larger forks were first designed for kitchen use to hold meat for cutting and gradually were adapted for use at the table. During the 17th century there were two tines and by the 1800’s they evolved to four tines to assist in eating more efficiently.
In 1630, Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony had the first and only fork in colonial America. By the beginning of the 19th Century, the use of forks was becoming more popular in the United States. Here they were sometimes called ’split spoons.’
The author of Consider the Fork:A History of How We Cook and Eat posits that this culinary change of cutting food smaller and eating it with a fork may have altered the way we eat and chew our food, such that it changed the structure of the human jaw. Humans used to have an edge-to-edge bite like chimpanzees and apes, but in the last 200 years or so it changed into an overbite. Who knew that such a simple change would have such an immediate adaptive effect.
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- Wednesday, 23 January 2013
- Posted in Categories: : Ask Madalyn