Forks Galore

By: Herbert Reich

Though for most of their history, forks have been available only in Europe and America. Though forks have not been popularly used in Asia, there is evidence that in fact they were used in China long before the use of chopsticks. Evidence of this seems to come from recent finds in Qijia Dynasty tombs. However, forks are readily becoming more popular in East Asia. The word itself is derived from the Latin term for pitchforks. There are references to them in the Bible and in Greek texts. However, they were not commonly used for eating.
In ancient Europe there was no room for the fork. Food was often eaten with the hands, and a common spoon called for when needed. Aristocrats had daintier manners, and might hold two knives for cutting and moving food to the mouth. Spoons were used for broth and soups. Forks were a major improvement, since they allowed meat to be easily held in one place, and for pieces of food to be shaken off, removing extra liquid or sauce. That made eating with a fork a much neater proposition than eating with even two knives.
Early forks are said to have been first introduced in the tenth century by Theophanu, Emperor Otto II's Byzantine wife. Over the next century, these pieces of dinnerware made it to Italy, where they became more established. Merchant and upper class people were using forks for eating regularly by the end of the sixteenth century. It was appropriate for guests to bring their own forks and spoons to dinners, a behavior introduced in France by Catherin de Medici and her entourage.
Northern Europe had more difficulty with the fork. English texts describe the use of the fork around the early 1600s, but it's considered unmasculine and foreign. Some Catholic writers even viewed the use of the fork as excessively delicate and against God. In their view, man had been created with fingers to use in eating, and to substitute a fork was an insult. Because of these things, the fork didn't enter common use in Britain until the eighteenth century, around the time the modern curved fork design developed in Germany. In the nineteenth century, the familiar four-tine design most of us use became standard.
Since then, there haven't been many changes in the design of the fork, but the twentieth century did bring us the spork - a half fork, half spoon utensil that makes travel with utensils easier. Only one piece of cutlery is needed to eat many meals, since the spoon shaped part of the utensil can scoop food, and the shortened front tines can spear it. Military and fast food settings, as well as campers, have adopted this unusual variant of the fork. Over history, the fork has undergone a lot of changes, and branched out into many different types. There are now forks for just about every purpose, from fish forks to dinner forks, pickle forks to fondue forks. That means that you can find one of these interesting pieces of dinnerware to go with every occasion.

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