Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week
Everyday Habits Overlooked
Our customs and everyday habits are too often overlooked. Take, for example, the use of flatware such as a fork. Where did it come from? How did become a part of our society? And when did this happen?
It is surprising to think that less than 5 centuries ago, there was no such thing as a fork. The fork emerged around the 7th century in royal courts of the Middle East where they began to be used at the table for dining. From the 10th century on, forks were common among the wealthy in Byzantium. Around the 11th century, a Byzantine wife of Venetian Doge, Domenico Selvo, brought the habit of using forks at the dinner table with her to Italy. Italians found this to be scandalous and a ridiculously useless habit. When she died shortly thereafter, it was perceived as a just divine punishment. It was not until the 16th century that forks were widely adopted in Italy. In 1533, forks were brought from Italy to France when Catherine de Medicis married the future King Henry II. The French, too, were slow to accept forks because using them was thought to be unnatural.
In the early days forks had only two tongs - similar to the carving fork used today. The French were the ones reportedly who added the additional tongs to make it easier for food to stay on. They also added a curve to the fork to eliminate the need to constantly switch from fork to spoon.
An Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks to England after seeing them in Italy during his travels in 1608. The English ridiculed Mr. Coryate as being effeminate and labeled his new toy useless. "Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?" they asked.
Slowly, however, forks came to be adopted by the wealthy. They were prized possessions made of expensive materials intended to impress guests. Small, slender-handled forks with two tines were generally used for sweet, sticky foods or for foods such as berries which were likely to stain the fingers. By the mid 1600s, eating with forks was considered fashionable among wealthy British. Forks used solely for dining were luxuries and thus markers of social status and sophistication among nobles.
It is an interesting observation that in intercontinental dining habits, it is customary that people will hold their knife in the right hand and fork in the left, eating with the left hand. That is why when a table is set, the knife is always on the right and fork on the left. The majority of Americans however will hold the knife in the right to cut and fork in the left and then switch to hold the fork in the right as well. I have always wondered why this is and where that habit started.
The story goes that in Colonial days, the fad for using forks had not yet turned to trend in the new forming colony. Americans used dull knives from Europe to cut their foods, and since they did not have an edge as the sharp ones, the habit of steadying the food with their spoon (which normally is held in the right hand as well) began. This caused the Colonial diners to constantly switch the spoon to the right hand to scoop up the bite of food they just cut. This was beginnings of what is known today as the zigzag method which immediately will indentify you as an American when traveling to any European country.
There is so much history, not only the food we eat, but also in how we eat it! No matter how you eat your food, come join us this week see what is new and fresh!
Look for other menu selections offered in the dining rooms this semester, and don’t forget to look at the weekly menus on our website often to find out what other fabulous menu items await you this week!
Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
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