By Jacque Scott
Ever wonder why or how eating utensils or knives, forks and spoons came to be? For tens of thousands of years, people usually ate like savages, grabbing foods with their hands and tearing hunks of meat off the bones with their teeth. Even as late as 1897, British sailors were forbidden to use knives and forks because it was thought unmanly.
Prehistoric diners used sharp stones, some made sharper by chipping to cut food. Coastal tribes used shells. A stick fastened to a shell provided a longer reach and protection from hot foods, and hollowed horns of sheep and goats were used to hold liquids, all which might have been the beginnings of the spoon.
The cupped hand was probably the first spoon. But when stone-age people began using fire and cooking, food became to hot to handle. Spoons were made of sea shells, stones, baked clay, and finally wood.
Spoons were used most often to get small pieces of what was called ‘spoon meat’ from common serving dishes. Spoon morsels were eaten on what was called ‘trenchers’. This was a flat piece of bread serving as a kind of absorbent plate. After finishing his meal, a diner either 1. ate his trencher, 2. threw it to the waiting dogs, or 3. gave it to the less fortunate waiting outside.
Welshmen often gave their sweethearts elaborately carved wooden spoons with affectionate sayings. And ‘spooning’ eventually came to be known as ‘courting’.
But humans were born with very useful, built-in eating tools at the ends of our arms!
People have always eaten with their fingers, which may be messy, but efficient. And even before Emily Post or Miss Manners there was a correct way to use one’s fingers at mealtime. During the mid-1500s it became the custom that refined people ate ate with only the first three fingers instead of using all five like the lower classes.
Erasmus wrote the first book of manners in 1526. He insisted that diners never lick their fingers or wipe them on their coats. It was better, according to Erasmus, to wipe one’s fingers on the tablecloth, a custom that, unfortunately, some people observe today.
Chopsticks are two long thin sticks that were developed in the 3rd Century BCE in China. The Chinese word for these tools meant “quick ones,” or “quick sticks,” so the English just called them chopsticks.
It’s possible that chopsticks were developed when people cooked their food in large pots which retained heat well, and hasty eaters broke twigs off trees to retrieve the food.
By 400 BCE, a large population and dwindling resources forced people to conserve fuel. Food was chopped into small pieces so it could be cooked more rapidly, thus using less fuel.
Chopsticks became efficient useful tools.
Confucius may have influenced Chinese utensil selection with his nonviolent philosophy and discouragement of knives at the dinner table. He equated them with aggression – and felt they would disturb the tranquility of the meal.
We know that knives have been used for at least 35,000 years because we have found flint blades in Europe and Asia. But these early tools were more than likely used to hack up food and not to eat with.
During the Middle Ages, knights considered it proper to use their knives to spear food from the common dishes. These were the same knives used for hunting. A common practice after dinner was for the diners to pick their teeth with the points of the very same knives. Cardinal Richelieu was appalled and by 1669, the French government had outlawed the use of the pointed knife at the table.
The Byzantines started occasionally eating with forks around 900 A.D. Even so, most people continued to use their hands. .
In the early 1600’s, an Englishman named Tom Coryatt saw that Italian diners were using a small 2-pronged fork made from silver, steel, or iron. He took one back to England and gave it to Queen Elizabeth who loved it and made others of gold, coral and crystal. Forks became a fad at court, but commoners still thought their use as silly.
Eventually forks made their way to the non-aristocratic table. Some were very fancy and stored in very fancy leather cases when one was going out to dine. About 1700 in France, the duc de Montausier became one of the first hosts to provide his guests with forks. Although they were mostly 2-pronged at that time, 4-pronged forks gained popularity in the 1800’s.
Even today Americans will eat fruit with their hands while Europeans will cut fruit up with a knife and fork.
Hmmm, now that was some trivia for you…God bless you and have a wonderful day.