When do forks come into use? This is a problem which has given rise to interminable discussions.
Ovid, addressing himelf to the beautiful people of his time, says: “Take food with your fingers; do not grease your face with a soiled hand”. Which must mean that there are no forks.
Mr Havard believes that the Greeks and the Romans had forks, but his arguments are rather specious. He says: “Neptune’s trident is, after all, only a very big fork. We also know, by Homer, that the Greeks had them and used them to present meat to a flame when they wanted to grill it. The Romans also used them. Some have been discovered in ancient digs.”
The parallel with the trident seems rather hazardous. On the other hand, it is true that the Greeks and the Romans – as well as the Egyptians – used a sort of hook for attaching pieces of meat. But is this the ancestor of the fork?
In the interesting Recueil d’antiquites by Count de Caylus, we find the sketch of a silver two-pronged fork, which is too well-preserved for a relic discovered in the ruins of the Appian Way. Nicolai, in his Antichita di Pesto, shows us a five-pronged fork specimen, found at Paestum, in the tomb of a warrior, surrounded by a whole collection of utensils. Its use remains problematic.
Caylus was later convinced that he had been tricked by the person who had sold him his fork. And in a debate, on the subject of the Paestum fork, a foreign expert has proven that this little instrument had never been used for eating. Anthony Rich, who does not agree, shows the sketches of these two dodgy forks in his Dictionnaire des Antiquites.
Knives and spoons, on the other hand, seem to have been used by the Romans. The cultellus is the carving knife. The culter coquinaris (cook’s knife) is used to cut meat. Butchers used a similar instrument for the same thing.
Ligula or lingula (little tongue) is a sort of little spoon having a certain resemblance with the human tongue, and was used for eating jams, to take balm from a jar, to skim certain dishes, and for other uses which needed its particular form.
The cochlear or cochleare (kokliarion) is the spoon used for eating eggs and shell-fish. It has a small spoon at one end, and ends in a point at the other. The big end is used as an egg-cup and the point is used to pull the fish from its shell.
Although forks are totally unknown, everyone has a knife and, seizing the meat on the table with his or her hand, cuts the piece that he or she wants, and passes the dish to his or her neighbour.
The first table utensils are therefore knives and spoons. Fortunat tells us that Saint Radegonde, the wife of Clotaire I, gave food to sick people with a spoon. As for forks, they are mentioned for the first time at the beginning of the XIVth Century.
In 1328, in the inventory of Queen Clemence of Hungary, we find about thirty spoons and a gold fork. When Queen Jeanne d’Evreux dies, she leaves a fork, carefully locked in a case, and sixty-four spoons.
In 1379, the Duchess de Touraine has nine dozen silver spoons and two gilded silver forks. Pierre Gaveston, favourite of Edward II, possesses sixty-nine silver spoons and only three forks, which are reserved exclusively for “eating pears”.
Charles V has forks of gold, with handles of precious stones. However, these rare forks have a very specific function. They are for grilling Bresse and Auvergne cheeses which are eaten with sugar and cinnamon powder.
Sixth part tomorrow.