“If you are more fortunate than others, it is better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”-Unknown
The history of eating utensils brings forth a fascinating look at the evolution of civilization. We take for granted the simple fork, used both for cutting and for eating. Let’s take a look at the history of eating utensils, specifically, the ‘furca’.
Implements and utensils were used for eating evolved out of necessity, not fashion. After fire was used to cook foods, burned fingers surely motivated man to use sticks, shells, animal bones and whatever else was handy for bringing food to one’s mouth.
These early utensils often did not last long and were eventually replaced with more durable utensils made of copper and other pliable materials. There is evidence that forks were used throughout early history and during the Roman Empire.
The Dark Ages in Europe brought about many changes, including the abandonment of forks and spoons for dining. They were replaced with double-edged knives, and finger and cupped hands throughout Western Europe were used, along with hollowed-out trenchers, which were an early form of a plate made of dried bread.
Forks remained in use in the Middle East and Africa. Chopsticks were favored by Asian cultures.
Since the 4th century BC, the fork managed to become common on the tables of the Byzantine high class. By the 9th century it had traveled to Persia where it began to be used in elite circles under the name “barjyn”. This kind of expansion slowly enable the fork to become commonplace in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, finally becoming part of regular eating utensils by the 10th century.
The modern word for fork comes from the Latin work “furca” which means “pitchfork”.
While Eastern Europe and the Middle East enjoyed the comfort and ease of forks during the Middle Ages, the remainder of central and western Europe still used hands as a primary way of eating.
Metal is Introduced
With the abundance of metal in circulation, higher circle of the population held tradition for every male person to carry one or two small, pointy knives that were used to cut meat. They were also used to ‘spear’ the food and carry the food from plate to mouth. This tradition was only practiced by wealthy males (who were obliged to cut the food for nearby women at the table). The poorer in the population continued to eat without the help of knives or forks. By then, wooden or metal spoons were more commonplace.
The Byzantine Princesses
Two princesses can be credited with introducing the fork.
Empress Theophanu married Saxton Emperor Otto II in 972 and Dogaressa Theodora Anna Sukaina Selvo married Venecian nobleman Domenico Selvo in 1075.
Both princesses brought the wonders of the East to pre-Renaissance Europe. Unfortunately, the influence of the two women was not enough to ensure the fork’s popularity. For the next 300 years Europe continued to ignore the fork. Several royal courts across Europe held a small contingent of specially designed forks for special purposes and formal meals, but the popularity of the fork was not to be seen until the marriage of French King Henry II and Italian noble woman Catherine de’ Medici. With her entourage, she brought to the French court the tradition of Italian noblewoman of eating with forks, which soon become very popular in France.
The United States embraced the fork at the end of the American Revolution and early 19th century.
Throughout its colorful history, the fork has had many versions in its look and usability. Early forks had only two tines and its design often obscured the user’s view of the plate.
As centuries went on, the fork’s design slowly started resembling what we know as a fork today…four tines and curved design that is suitable for piercing and scooping food.
By the early 20th century, the introduction of stainless steel allowed for easy manufacture of the kitchen utensils. The fork has had few changes since that time.
Today, the invention of plastic enabled inventors to design forks to be carried in the picnic basket. And a modern hybrid of forks can be found in a Spork (spoon and fork), Knork (knife and fork) and Sporf (knife, spoon and fork).
The fork as we know it today, has graced the tables of Americans from special holiday meals to brunches to romantic dinners. Whether your fork is sterling silver (from Grandma’s collection) or handy stainless steel (that goes straightaway to the dishwasher), we are grateful for this common utensil, without which we may just be barbarians.
All hail the furca.
Ready, Set…time to say please and thank you again.
Remember: Share your goodness, far and wide, as much as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, with as much respect as you can.
Ready, Set…Time to Say Please and Thank You again.