ETIQUETTE CUTLERY HISTORY
Bringing Etiquette and Style to the Table recorded January, 2006
During the Middle Ages, most people ate with their hands off of slices of four-day old bread known as "trenchers." Only the wealthy used knives-- and not so much because they were perceived to be necessary, but because they were impressive. Among the nobility, male diners brought their personal knives to eat with and were expected to cut food for the women when necessary. Many times two knives were used - one to cut and the other to hold the meat still.
The spoon is the oldest of all eating utensils. The earliest spoons were made from wood, and ancient examples include those that were elaborately decorated in precious metals and intricately carved in ivory. Spoons became a mark of rank in society. Some silver craftsmen and jewelers concentrated on just making spoons for the wealthy. The family that could boast of the most ornate spoons became prestigious. Special tiny spoons crafted out of silver were commissioned by wealthy parents for their new babies. - Hence the origin of the expression, "born with a silver spoon in his mouth."
It wasn’t until 1533 that Catherine de Médici of Italy brought forks to France when she married Henry II of France. Early forks consisted of two prongs. At first, people laughed at the absurdity of using a fork, but, as it became synonymous with the high court, forks became the rage of the wealthy, who brought their own ornate designs in specially designed carrying cases when invited to dine with friends.
Since it was no longer necessary to spear one’s food with the point of a knife, artisans began making knives with blunt ends. Food was held by the fork in the left hand while being cut with the right hand. Then, the fork, still secure in the left hand, was raised to the mouth to eat.
But, in colonial America in 1630, Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony owned the first and only fork. The knives imported from Europe with their new blunt ends were not as easy to eat with as the pointed ones and people began to use a spoon to steady their food to cut it. When forks were first imported, they were called, “Split Spoons”. Spoons – and later forks – were switched to the right hand after the food was cut in order to scoop it up into one’s mouth – This was the beginning of what is known today as the American zig-zag method of switching our fork from our left to our right hand to eat, while the Europeans still keep their forks in the left hand. It would seem as though this double process we go through would have been changed sometime in our history for pure common sense. Instead, we consider it poor etiquette to keep the fork in our left hand to eat – unless, of course, someone is left-handed, and then they’re seated at the end of the table so their left elbow won’t collide with the elbow of a right-handed person trying to eat properly.