The way our ancestors put food into their mouths for the first time is not controversial: they just used their hands. However, in the development of actual cutlery, the question is: Is there a knife or a spoon first?
The knife, in the form of sharp flint and other stones, is one of the earliest tools of mankind, but it is used more as a weapon than a tool for eating. The original blade can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age, to the Neolithic Age (5000-2000 BC), the stone blade has been installed on a wooden handle. Metal knives are very similar to today's knives. The handle and the handle are connected with a cushion and a tang, which soon appeared. The iron sword appeared around 1000 BC. The spoon was originally made of shells or animal horns; our ancient ancestors attached a stick and stretched it farther. The spoon is also carved from wood. The word spoon comes from the Anglo-Saxon word spon, which means "a piece of wood." The Romans used bone, tin, bronze, and silver to make spoons, gradually reducing the end of the handle and expanding the front end. In Britain, Vikings and Saxon invaders introduced leaf-shaped spoon bowls with decorative acorn carvings on the end of the handle. Cromwell and the Puritans gave the spoon its current shape, removed the decorations, flattened the end of the handle, and made the bowl more oval.
Knives and spoons are part of the traveler's kit. The host should not provide utensils for dinner guests. Until the Middle Ages, ordinary people still eat with their hands, using four-day-old slices of bread, called "trenchers" to push their food. The rich use tableware not only for impressing people, but also for practicality. The men eat with their personal knives (convenient in the event of a dispute at dinner time) and cut food for their ladies. Heralding the development of forks, diners sometimes use two knives, one for piercing food and the other for slicing.
Fork It Over
Forks, at least in a two-pronged design, were well-known to ancient people in the form of forked branches to Neptune's trident. The word comes from the Latin furca, which means pitchfork. The ceremonial fork was used in religious ceremonies in Egypt, and the Greeks used a "meat fork" to remove meat from a boiling pot. But the idea of forks as tableware did not become popular in the Middle East until around 400 AD. A story of introducing forks into Western Europe is attributed to Maria Argyropoulina, the Greek niece of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who brought a box of golden forks to Venice in 1004, when she was about to marry the son of the governor. She shocked the guests with a fork at the wedding banquet, leading a pastor to comment: “God used his wisdom to provide mankind with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore, replacing them with artificial metal forks during meals is for him. An insult.” Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later, and the Italian clergy regarded it as God’s revenge. Nevertheless, the fork started to make progress. "Suckett" forks are sometimes used to eat fruit syrup or other messy foods. (It is said that prostitutes particularly liked this kind of fork, which triggered further religious condemnation.) Catherine de Medici brought the fork back from Italy after marrying the future Henry II in 1533, thus Forks became popular in France.
Forks can cause ridicule, partly because they don't work well. The food fell from the two-tooth fork and slipped through the gap. Bend the end of the fork and add a third tine—in Germany in the early 1700s, the fourth tine—to give the utensil the shape we are familiar with today.
The Great Divide
It was a change in the table knife, however, that put forks at every place—and forever separated how Americans and Europeans eat. Cardinal Richelieu of France supposedly was so disgusted by a frequent dinner guest’s habit of picking his teeth with his knife that he had the tips of the man’s knives ground down. The fashion-conscious French court picked up on this style and followed suit. In 1699, to reduce the risk of dinnertime knife fights, French King Louis XIV banned pointed knives outright. Since blunted knives were useless for spearing food in the old two-knife dining style, forks replaced the knife held in the left hand. The newfangled blunt knives reached the American colonies in the early 1700s, where few forks were available. Americans were forced to use upside-down spoons to steady food for cutting. They would then switch the spoon to the right hand, flipping it to use as a scoop. Even after forks became everyday utensils, this “zigzag” style (as Emily Post called it in the 1920s) continues to divide American eaters’ customs from the Continental style of dining. (Shifting the fork to the right hand after cutting is considered uncouth by Europeans.) By the mid-1800s, not only was there a fork on every suitable table, but there was also a proliferation of special forks of various types: harpoon forks, berry forks, cake forks, and even cucumber forks. Though we still refer to “silverware,” the invention of stainless steel in 1913 eventually made a wide variety of eating utensils available to households of modest means. By adding chromium to carbon-steel, Englishman Henry Brearley revolutionized the cutlery industry. Steel utensils no longer had to be immediately washed and dried to ward off rust.
Tools of the Trade
The history of cutlery has gone in different directions in Asia. China invented the first chopsticks around 3000 BC. Basically an extension of the fingers, chopsticks prevailed under the impetus of the vegetarian Confucius. He taught: "The upright person should stay away from the slaughterhouse and kitchen. And no knives are allowed on his table."
When Chinese chefs dealt with scarce resources in the sixth century by cutting meat into smaller pieces to cook faster (saving fuel) and stretch the ingredients, it was easier to follow this motto. Soon, the use of chopsticks spread to Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.
However, even today, not everyone is in the knife and fork or chopstick camp. Some people in Arab countries, India, the Arctic, and parts of Africa still eat with our hands, the original equipment of mankind.