Spoons were the first tools designed for eating. Knives were also used, of course, but they weren't originally created for that purpose. It took a long time for forks to be invented. It took even longer for people to accept them.
Forks had been used for dining in the Middle East since the 600s. But when a Turkish princess brought them to Italy in about 1100, the Italians were shocked. Food should be eaten with the fingers! It took 200 years before Italians accepted the fork. By 1500, the fork had reached France, where many people found them silly. Early forks had only two tines and were used mostly for spearing meat.
Then the fork reached England. In 1611, Thomas Coryate wrote in a book that he was the first man in London to eat with a fork. Later, forks became quite fashionable.
After France's King Louis XIV ordered table knives to have rounded tips, forks became more useful for spearing food. A third tine was added to the fork, and eventually a fourth.
In Europe it became common practice to grasp the fork in the left hand to hold the meat, cut the meat with a knife, then bring the meat to the mouth with the fork still in the left hand. This is called the Continental Style of eating and is still the practice in Europe.
But in America, rounded knives became popular before forks did. For a time, American diners had nothing with which to spear the meat. Instead, they held down the meat with a spoon in the left hand. They cut the meat with the knife in their right hand. Then they moved the spoon to their right hand to pick up the meat. When Americans began using forks, they kept the same pattern of switching the fork back to the right hand to lift the cut pieces of meat to their mouths. This is called the American style of dining, still used by most Americans today.
The basic design of the fork, and of spoons and knives, really hasn't changed for hundreds of years. But all three have an important place at many tables. If you could only use one of these implements to eat with, which would you choose?
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society