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The interesting history of the fork
January 11, 2013 4:33 AM   Subscribe

Medieval tines: A brief history of the fork. There are many further details in this Leite's Culinaria article, The Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork, linked in the post.
posted by daisyk (36 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't see the point.
posted by cthuljew at 5:15 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fork yeah!
posted by TedW at 5:25 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only they could explain the mystery of why there are never any forks in the break room.



(I think the spoons kill them and eat them when we aren't looking but i have not caught them at it. Yet.)
posted by louche mustachio at 5:39 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Since the evolution of the fork is touched on, it reminded me of this AskMe, which led to this blog post, which claims that this is the pinnacle of flatware design. I'm not sure how he arrived at that conclusion, but at least the church isn't condemning it.
posted by TedW at 5:44 AM on January 11, 2013


Sporktacular post.
posted by chillmost at 5:51 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


They’d use the spoon in the left hand to steady the food as they cut it with the knife in the right. They’d then switch the spoon to the opposite hand in order to scoop it up to eat.

Very interesting though I don't altogether see why they couldn't scoop with the spoon in the left hand.
posted by Segundus at 5:52 AM on January 11, 2013


Really, it was just a case of waiting for the social upheavals following the collapses of Late Antiquity until the principles of Christian Charity and "fork give and fork get" were established in European society. After that, table manners could improve.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Psh, everybody knows forks weren't allowed in Medieval Times.
posted by kmz at 6:10 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The first fork in America was likely Governor Winthrop around 1630.

Winthrop was the uncle of George Downing, who was Pepys's boss at the Exchequer and in the first graduating class at Harvard.
posted by vacapinta at 6:18 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are still people trying to evolve the fork. Witness:

* The local restaurant that serves steak and such with forks whose tines are so blunt they cannot be forced into meat. The 'points' are square. They also give you a big knife shaped like a bolo machete that you can't use as a spear. No chopsticks, either.

* The tiny plastic forks our office manager bought for the lunchroom last time (almost certainly because they were the cheapest option). They're too flimsy and short to be of use eating anything, and too big for doll tea parties. The knives that came with those are too flexible to spread butter.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since the evolution of the fork is touched on, it reminded me of this AskMe, which led to this blog post, which claims that this is the pinnacle of flatware design.

As I said last time Yanagi cutlery came up, I hope it's awesome to hold and use, because it looks like a spork you'd get in a food court.

Speaking of sporks, Towards a Grand Unification of Cutlery.
Note that splayds are a real thing, and were allegedly the 60-70s wedding present in Australia.
The ultimate evolution of flatware: 18th C. Combat Cutlery.
The History of Eating Utensils, from the Rietz Collection of Food Technology at the California Academy of Sciences.
The exhibition catalog from Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005.
3rd C. Roman eating implement, folding, with three-pronged fork, spatula, pick, spike and knife.
posted by zamboni at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


If only they could explain the mystery of why there are never any forks in the break room.

There is existing literature on teaspoon displacement, but fork migration remains unstudied.
posted by zamboni at 6:40 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The other day our local news station had a story about that USB fork that tells you when you're eating too much or something. I didn't catch all the details because I immediately said to my husband: "that's it. That is too ridiculous. I refuse to believe such a thing exists. la la la la la la la la."

Of course then he had to pull up photos of it and taunt me but man, sometimes "tech-ing" something up is just NOT necessary. Let the forks be forks, man.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:49 AM on January 11, 2013


Yes, clearly the fork was due for a 21st century reboot.
Beware the 'hacked' fork that tells you to jab yourself in the eye.
posted by obscurator at 6:55 AM on January 11, 2013


Let the forks be forks, man.

This just off the wire.....

LAS VEGAS - We had a feeling that fitness and health gadgets were going to be a big deal at CES 2013, but we didn't expect this. It's a Bluetooth fork that not only pairs with your phone but vibrates when you eat too fast. It's called the HapiFork and its made by a start-up called HapiLabs.
posted by three blind mice at 6:56 AM on January 11, 2013


Different sort of fork, but for some reason this post reminded me of this joke twitter account.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 7:03 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If people would read the forking links in the FPPs before posting and provide some forking context with their forking "this" links, our forking threads wouldn't have so many forking forks.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:10 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zamboni: three-pronged fork. . .

Technically, this is known as a threek.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:12 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


When we pick up a dinner fork we rarely think about how or why it came to be. (from the second link).

At dinner the other day, I was wondering exactly this. I knew the story of the blunt knives and spoons in the colonies, and that the fork came to the UK in the 17th century, but I was really curious about where it had come from before that.
posted by jb at 7:13 AM on January 11, 2013


Hundreds of years, and Windows still doesn't support fork.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:26 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the Leite's Culinaria article above, it seems that forks originally had two tines. Over time, they featured three, then four tines. One could make the argument that forks have become progressively tinier, but you'd probably have to explain yourself.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 7:28 AM on January 11, 2013


Does anyone know of a primary source for the first link's "medieval spice fingers" claim? Their cited source is rather lacking in footnotes.
posted by zamboni at 7:29 AM on January 11, 2013


Consider the Fork
posted by hannahelastic at 7:35 AM on January 11, 2013


Does anyone know of a primary source for the first link's "medieval spice fingers" claim?

I have read several books on medieval cooking and eating—including ones with substantial discussions of dining etiquette—and never seen a reference to this notion. Not saying it's not true, but it makes me question whether it was a universal practice. People sometimes write about "medieval culture" as though 10th century England was the same as 12th century Al-Andalus or 15th century Paris. Or make sweeping statements about medieval dining based on royal dining habits or fashions.
posted by jedicus at 7:43 AM on January 11, 2013


I've never seen a reference to finger choreography either. We do know people in medieval England ate with their hands. Thats well-documented and we even have aquamaniles that were used throughout the meal.
posted by vacapinta at 7:53 AM on January 11, 2013


From the Leite's Culinaria article above, it seems that forks originally had two tines. Over time, they featured three, then four tines. One could make the argument that forks have become progressively tinier, but you'd probably have to explain yourself.

Come gather 'round people wherever you dine
Pay heed to my warning and things'll be fine
Accept that utensil as your status-sign
When you sit at the table for phagin'
Stop using your fingers and grace with be thine
For the tines they are a-changin'
 
posted by Herodios at 8:17 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


A legendary housing director at the University of Wisconsin, Newell Smith, recalled that one of his biggest challenges (on par with housing thousands of GIs and families in the Quonset huts near the football stadium in the 1940s) was trying to convince students to accept the new three-tined forks in the dining halls. They referred to them as "threeks." At that point, it was all over.
posted by Madamina at 8:34 AM on January 11, 2013


Very interesting though I don't altogether see why they couldn't scoop with the spoon in the left hand.

They may not have had a knife in their hands when eating all the time -- stews and other dishes prepared in bite-sized pieces were also very popular. If I recall correctly, individual cuts (steaks, chops, etc) which were sawed didn't become popular until later (like the 19th century).

In Small Things Forgotten is an amazing book on historical archeology of colonial America.
posted by jb at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2013


3rd C. Roman eating implement, folding, with three-pronged fork, spatula, pick, spike and knife.

I've never seen something so perfect: I want a replica NOW.

Seriously, someone should start manufacturing replica Roman folding spoon/fork/knife/pointy things.
posted by jb at 9:09 AM on January 11, 2013


Psh, everybody knows forks weren't allowed in Medieval Times.

Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?
posted by radwolf76 at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2013


> I have read several books on medieval cooking and eating—including ones with substantial discussions of dining etiquette—and never seen a reference to this notion. Not saying it's not true, but it makes me question whether it was a universal practice. People sometimes write about "medieval culture" as though 10th century England was the same as 12th century Al-Andalus or 15th century Paris. Or make sweeping statements about medieval dining based on royal dining habits or fashions.

I thought so too. Well, the passage references feast foods, so we know this is referring to royalty. Even still, the assertion that pinky fingers were reserved for dipping into table spices for tasting certainly has a whiff of legend...or at least an overly-broad extrapolation, doesn't it? The quoted journal article (PDF) , which is from 1983, <a href="), and it does not identify a specific primary source for "spice fingers."
posted by desuetude at 9:46 AM on January 11, 2013


I've never seen something so perfect: I want a replica NOW.

Here you go.
posted by vacapinta at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2013


Also, in case you're curious about the history of the fork beyond "hey, it just showed up in Italy from some Byzantine princess" I recommend Maria Parani's Byzantine Cutlery.

She can trace back the fork as an eating implement no farther than 10th century Byzantium. Anything earlier than that, including the Roman ones, we just can't say for sure.
There's little documentation and they have may have been just tools.
posted by vacapinta at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2013


Here you go.

Awesome. Now I just need to learn Spanish to order one. :) But that knife blade - it seems to face out? weird, but maybe Roman soldiers had a sheath or something for it.
posted by jb at 10:12 AM on January 11, 2013


Here you go.

Ear cleaner? On the same tool I use to eat my Cheerios?
posted by OHSnap at 7:18 PM on January 11, 2013


Here's an interview with the author of Consider the Fork on the Atlantic: they mention that eating with utensils might be the cause of the overbite in human beings.
posted by daisyk at 1:07 AM on January 19, 2013


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