The interesting history of the fork: a tool with a “young” age in human history


It is also easy to understand when knowing that the fork is a tool for late birth: people are born with skillful fingers to easily grasp food.

Unless you’re eating a steak at a European restaurant or thinking about skewering your mother’s freshly peeled mango, you’ll rarely think about the plate. And even when holding the “mini trident” in your hand, you don’t think about the fork: the act of holding a sharp object to skewer food to put it in your mouth is as natural as a survival instinct.

But this familiar feeling is still new. The age of the plate is still low, so it’s still weird enough to slip into literature. As Charles Simic (born 1938), the great Serbian-American poet once wrote:

Simic’s poetry remains the same, depicting the strangeness and horror of everyday experiences. You have also seen the “Simic substance” emanating from the poem describing the dish above, which is one of Charles Simic’s series of works about everyday things. But not at Simic’s poetry, with “cannibal” and “bald bird head without beak, makes it hard to think about the fork. There is still another reason that can explain the strange feeling that the fork can give: humanity is not used to this tool because the tool is so new.

The fork is a late birthing tool. Meanwhile, the knife is a descendant of the hand ax – a sweet, palm-sized piece of stone that was first used by human ancestors to cut meat and craft wood since they lived in Africa more than 1 year ago. ,6 million years ago. Most likely, the first spoons came from a tool for scooping up solution: the word for “spoon” in both Latin and Greek is derived from the concept of snail shell.

However, the saucer-shaped tool has also existed for a long time. In ancient Greece, it is said that Poseidon tamed the sea with a holy trident, and people from Egypt, Rome to ancient Greece used the trident to skewer food in a large pot of soup or on a hot flame. On the dining table of the ancient Greeks, people only used spoons, knives and hands to eat.

Gradually, the trident became smaller and found its way deeper into human life. In the 8th and 9th centuries, there were Persian nobles using fork-like tools. As the 11th century approached, aristocratic families in the Byzantine Empire were accustomed to eating with forks, and there is undeniable evidence that forks can cause “culture shock” in a human society. few people know about this strange tool.

In 1004, when Maria Argyropoulina, niece of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II, married in the Venetian country, becoming the daughter-in-law of the Governor Pietro Orseolo, she brought with her a small box of golden plates, intending to Use this royal item in your wedding party.

Saint Peter Damian, an ascetic hermit at the time, said: “Such was the luxury of her habit… that she did not condescend to touch the food with her fingers, but ordered the serving eunuch to cut the food into small pieces, and then she skewered them with a metal tool. gold has two prongs and brings things to his mouth“.

Saint Peter Damian hated the princess’s eating habits so much that when she died in 1007, the hermit called the sad event God’s punishment for his presumptuous lifestyle. Hard to believe, there comes a time when eating dinner with a fork can be seen as blasphemous, against nature.

In the Middle Ages, most people ate their meals in pot-like loafs that could hold both meat and vegetables; For dishes not suitable for dexterous hands, the diners will use spoons and knives. At this moment, the disc is traveling from the Byzantine Empire to Italy. In 1533, the plate “escorted” Catherine de Medici as she traveled from Italy to France to be married to King Henry II.

The 16th century saw France torn by political factions. Catherine cleverly used large parties to flaunt the prestige of the regime and force the opposing sides to sit at the same table. Food is one of the sharp political tools in the hands of Catherine de Medici. Her method of eating, as well as the variety of dishes, from herbal artichokes to sweet ice cream, were flaunted throughout the region, both gaining public support and creating social circles between factions. rival.

During this period, most forks had two prongs, ranging in size from those sturdy enough to hold large chunks of meat to small plates for dessert after a meal. The fork is a tool used for occasions, not for everyday use.

During the reign of King Henry III (1207-1272), the owners of forks were all wealthy families, and they always carried a box of cutlery with them when traveling. These little boxes fit in a pocket or are attached to the belt, much like the way we carry and use our phones during meals.

In the autobiography of the great philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) written about 1570, he mentions dishes but admits he rarely uses them. Until the end of the 17th century, there was still a community of male sailors who refused to use forks because they thought that the small tool exuded weakness and inferiority.

It was not until the late 15th and early 16th centuries that people began to spend money to buy utensils such as spoons and forks of various sizes. This was when architects started building houses with dining rooms, and the explosion of the dining room led to the inevitable: the plate evolved, starting with 3 to 4 more teeth. However, forks are still not favored.

Based on the content of the book Structure of Daily Life written in the early 18th century by the historian Ferdinand Braudel (1902-1985), King Louis XIV (1638 – 1715, also known as Louis the Great) forbade children in the household from using forks, even though the royal children still encourage this act.

By the mid-18th century, we found plates much more prevalent when people began to scold individuals who still didn’t know how to use them. In 1760, the nobleman and army commander Francois Baron de Tott uttered a “beautiful word” at a gala dinner in Turkey:

A round table, surrounded by chairs, with spoons and forks – nothing but the habit of using them. But they don’t want to cut off the way we behave, which is pervasive in the Greek world and the way British behavior pervades each of us, and I see a woman, all the time. dinner tonight, skewered olives on my plate to eat them the French way“.

By the end of the 19th century, forks had become an indispensable part of the French dining table, and this was also the time when the dining table became the center of all social gatherings, when a conversation with dinner. was no longer a specialty of the nobles, but the bourgeoisie began to see the benefits of eating.

In 1825, the judge Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin published the book Physiological Function of Taste: Or Meditate on the A priori of the Art of Delicious Eating, with words describing a world intertwined with the culture of enjoying the meal. “A dinner without cheese like a pretty girl with only one eye“.

Judge Brillat-Savarin loved the rules set for the banquet table, for example, the temperature of the dinner room must be within the range of 15-20 degrees Celsius to be suitable for dining, but even he accepted. find the transient behavior too cumbersome. In the book The Biological Function of Taste, a section on culinary culture in 1740, Brillat-Savarin writes: “This period saw the emergence of more organized, clean and refined meals, [nhưng] The beauties in the effort to improve the meal, which have continued to develop until now, are on the verge of being ridiculously overdone.“.

For those who enjoy contemporary cuisine, Brillat-Savarin’s comment can be immediately associated with the shape of knives, spoons and forks undergoing major changes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Before the 18th century, utensils used for eating and drinking were made mainly from silver, the metal that reacts the least with food, but silver is a rare metal, so knives, spoons and forks are still not widely available. When silver plating technology appeared along with the boom of the commercial market, the “population explosion” plate with a variety of designs and uses: we have forks to eat meat, eat crabs, eat shrimps, eat fish, eat fruit, eat salad, eat cucumber, eat noodles and even forks used in … drink tea.

By 1926, the number of utensils used for eating and drinking increased so quickly that the then US Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover had to order a limit, a set of utensils used in meals can not exceed 55 items because the amount of materials poured into their production has been too high.

But once plates became popular and the “mini trident” was more or less boring, people began to look for more ornate forms. A series of designers embarked on customizing the plate into works of art. This is the stage we see emerge:

The excessively diverse shapes and designs not only confuse the diners but also create many other ridiculous problems. In the 1960s, designer Bruno Munari published Design as Art, which contained a chapter titled “Knife, Fork and Spoon” containing sarcastic letters.

He advised newlyweds to deepen their understanding of the three utensils on the dining table, because maybe one day the royal family will visit the house to play. Munari made a list of things they needed to know spread over several pages, then added that “it’s an incomplete list,” and then he closed his speech with advice for everyone to switch to chopsticks:

The anti-fork mentality and the promotion of chopsticks spread throughout the West, having nothing to do with the short and turbulent development history of the fork. In an article entitled “Chinese Chopsticks” published in Popular Science Monthly in 1898, the writer described chopsticks as “a substitute for a plate, clamped in the shape of a tweezer”, and called chopsticks a work. The most useful, the most economical, the most effective, the most purposeful, tool ever invented by man. A decade after this winged compliment, another article in The New York Times suggested that chopsticks “encourage the mere act of eating.”

But why argue? Whether it’s chopsticks, forks or even spoons, any method of bringing food to the mouth serves its purpose. When Pablo Picasso looked at the prehistoric man’s painting on the cave wall, he exclaimed with emotion: “We have not invented anything!”. We can also look at the human hands, the “natural fork/chopstick/spoon” and feel the same thing.

As historian Madeleine Pelner Cosman once described the act of eating in winged words:

Most of the food at medieval feasts was brought to the mouth with delicate, often elegant, movements of the fingers. However, both pinky fingers are outstretched, never touching the food or the gravy or sauce, in order to keep it as a tasting finger. Touching salt, sweet basil, cinnamon sugar, or finely ground mustard seeds, then to the tongue, the spiced finger flaunts the eater’s ingenuity while adding an additional sense of pleasure: the touch of a touch. with food surfaces.

Some polite behavior in modern society also includes the outstretched little finger, which has no practical effect, they are all cultural remembrance of medieval spice fingers. In fact, the ancient clergy encouraged the use of forks to eliminate the pleasure that comes from the touch. The plate was ignored until the end of the 16th century, because of the perception that this was an act of using metal to separate the pleasure that food brought from the mouth that was willing to accept the food. Using a fork reduces the ability to “feel” the food.

As Saint Thomas once said, in the two concepts of food and sex, gluttony and lust are related to the pleasure that touch brings.

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