forked, a brief history {life}


I mentioned on Instagram a few weeks back that I was slowly replacing our tired and worn out forks with some random forks I'd found at a local antique and gift shop here in town called Table Seven. I love this place. I'm not a real antique-y kind of person, but they seem to have the perfect mix of quirky rather than fussy antiques (fabulous barware, for example) that's always right up my alley.

We were in at Christmas time when Neel and I spied this basket of random flatware by the front door. Since we were already at our budget for the holidays (ahem) and not doing any spending on ourselves, I let it go, looking longingly at at the basket as we left. Our forks are in bad shape. We've had them a long time, what can I say? But after the holidays I sneaked back. I'll replace a few at a time, starting with the forks. Neel thinks we only need to replace the broken forks, but when you see how pretty and different they are, it's a little hard not to completely infiltrate, you know?

So when I bought my first round of forks, the woman who helped me, turned that fork over to show me the back. "See how lovely it is?" she asked. Apparently, in a somewhat ambiguous "back then," tables were set with the forks facing down, so the flatware makers made sure that both sides were beautiful.

I loved that story, and it got me thinking. What's the deal with the fork?

In the treasury of our utensils, the fork is the baby. Knives, basically tiny axes, have been around forever, and even the Greeks were using spoons to scoop their liquids. Forks? Derived from the word for "pitchfork," early use of forks was considered immoral (as compared to eating with your hands, I suppose) and therefore limited. During the 15th century the two-pronged utensils became more common among both the merchant and noble classes where the forks were used primarily for foods that might stain one's hands. Forks, still considered somewhat immoral, were shared among several diners.

Catherine de Medici brought the fork to France upon her marriage to Henry II, and after that, well, the rest is history! By the 17th century people were carrying their own utensils (thank the good Lord), and the two-pronged fork, good for scooping and not much else, was being replaced. A third or fourth tine, now slightly curved, made scooping easier and it less likely for food to slip through.

So how about them apples? Looking into the way we eat with forks (the French transfer vs. the American) and the carvings on flatware could be an entirely different post. So much fascinating history.

And you know what? We're still low on forks, which means another trip to Table Seven for me!

I found my information on the history on the fork in all sorts of places on the web, including a Slate article and another on Design Sponge. There are some great books available as well, like this and this.