Knives, forks and spoons over the decades

Source : iStockphoto LP

This essay explores a common household element with a high iron content: cutlery. Moreover, the real name is flatware or a canteen. History and anecdote lovers, this one’s for you.

First and foremost, let’s specify that cutlery means knives, cutting instruments and utensils. It’s a broad term encompassing flatware and canteen. A place setting is a set of handheld eating utensils. And a canteen consists of 12 place settings in a storage case.

Today, setting a beautiful table involves a careful choice of flatware. A multitude of materials such as stainless steel, plastic, glass and more give these items unique character and enhance decor. Some utensils are real treasures with sculpted handles or blown-glass parts. So where does this fashion originate?

Before the 17th century, there were no utensils on the table: everyone ate with their fingers. Since napkins were indispensable, they became a symbol of good manners and wealth in high society over the centuries.

In China, we know that chopsticks were invented more than 3000 years ago. They had two functions: eating hot foods without burning fingers and showing the superiority of the learned over warriors, who used a knife to eat.

Utensils were used for a variety of reasons before being used at the table.

Use of a knife dates back over 25,000 years! From a cutting tool and then a flint or bronze weapon in prehistoric times, in the hands of the Egyptians and then the Romans, the knife transformed into an instrument for eating. You cut and then speared food with the pointed end.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Cardinal Richelieu was irritated that gentlemen picked their teeth with their knives at the table, so he asked his master cutler to round the end of the utensil by issuing an edict.

Back to the Romans. They also used spoons instead of shells to prepare meals. But only in the 17th century were spoons used to eat with.

With the arrival of the fork to spear food, it seems that knives were rounded off. The website explains it thus:  The spread of the fork in Europe took nine centuries and in the Middle Ages it had only two prongs and a handle (foldable in the beginning). It was a rare and luxurious object.

The fork was introduced in France by queen Catherine de Medici in the 16th century and appeared on the table of her son, Henry III. Invited to several Venetian nobility feasts hosted by the chief magistrate in the 16th century, Henry III was intrigued by a utensil that he had never seen before: a finely crafted handle in horn, ivory or stone, with two tapered teeth. This ingenious accessory called a fork (“little fork”) was doubly fascinating because it speared meat more elegantly than with fingers or the point of a knife… It was under the reign of Louis XIV that forks with three and four prongs appeared. Use of forks for eating only became commonplace at the end of the 18th century.

Thanks to stainless steel, discovered in Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century, there’s no more need to polish flatware, which before then tarnished or rusted.

Photo source: iStockphoto LP