A Short History of the Fork

The word ‘fork’ is derived through the Latin furca, meaning “pitchfork.” The ancient Greeks used the fork like a serving utensil, and it’s also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, from the Book of I Samuel 2:13 (“The custom among the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant came, while the fresh flesh was boiling, using a fork of three teeth in the hand…”), however, it wasn’t commonly used in Western Europe until the 10th century. There are many different types of forks and they might be made out of different materials like metal and horn.
The Romans used forks and there are numerous examples of Roman forks on display in museums around Europe. Samples of these forks date from the 2nd century A.D.
Before the fork was introduced, Westerners were dependent on the spoon and knife as the only eating utensils. Thus, people would largely eat food with their hands, calling for a common spoon when required.

Members of the nobility would sometimes be accustomed to manners considered more proper and hold two knives at meals and employ them in cooperation to cut and transfer food into the mouth, using the spoon for soups and broth. Bone forks have been present in the burial site of Qijia culture as well as later Chinese dynasties’ tomb.

The earliest forks usually had only two tines, but those with numerous tines caught on quickly. The tines on these implements were straight, meaning the fork could only be used for spearing food and never for scooping it. The fork allowed meat to be easily held in place while being cut. The fork also allowed one to spike a piece of meat and shake off any undesired excess of sauce or liquid before consuming it. Wider use of the table fork in Western Europe was facilitated by two Byzantine imperial princesses who married into the Western aristocracy: the Empress Theophanu, wife of Emperor Otto II, in 972 A.D.,  as well as the Dogaressa Teodora Anna Dukaina Selvo, wife of the Doge of Venice Domenico Selvo,  in 1075A.D.

By the 11th century, the table fork had made its way to Italy. In Italy, it became quite popular through the 14th century, being regularly used for eating by merchant and upper classes by 1600. It had been proper for a guest to arrive along with his own fork and spoon enclosed inside of a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced into the French court with Catherine de’ Medici’s entourage.

Long after the personal table fork had become commonplace in France, at the supper celebrating the wedding of the duc de Chartres to Louis XIV’s natural daughter in 1692, the seating was described in the court memoirs of Saint-Simon: “King James having his Queen on his right hand and the King on his left, and each with their cadenas.” In Perrault’s contemporary fairy tale of La Bella au bois dormant  (1697), each of the fairies invited for the christening is presented with a splendid “Fork Holder.”

The fork’s adoption in northern Europe was slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat inside a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it had been viewed as an unmanly Italian mannerism. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, seeing it as “excessive delicacy”: “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating.” It wasn’t until the 18th century that the fork became commonly utilized in Great Britain although some sources say forks were common in France, England and Sweden already by the early 1600s.

The curved fork that is utilized in most parts around the globe today, was developed in Germany inside the mid 18th century. The conventional four-tine design became current in the early nineteenth century.

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