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What do we eat with...  

 
 
 

"Flatware is the most perfect devices in the world"
(common wisdom)
 
 


Enjoyment of food!!!
Enjoying the everyday process of food consumption, rarely do we stop to think what it is that we eat with. Never do we take a moment to reflect upon the interesting and intricate history of evolution of tableware before it reached the present day in its current form.

Ancient Greeks and Romans, while discussing the nature of art and composing the most advanced philosophical treatises, preferred, nonetheless, to use their hands for eating. Ovidius taught to "Take the food with the tips of your fingers". They would wipe their hands with pieces of bread after meals. Later on, the Greeks started using gloves with special hard tips, which were worn on the fingers while eating.

Time has passed and delicate gourmets, who knew not only what to eat, but also how to do it in the most elegant way, replaced the "eating savages". Polished manners and knowledge of etiquette have become the most important personal qualities of the Baroque epoch. At the time, the high society embraced a multitude of conventionalities and theatrical behavior at the table. The awl-like ancestor of the fork was replaced by a double-toothed fork with a short intricately decorated handle.

History of spoon making goes all the way back to the Neolithic epoch. First, spoons made out of baked clay appear around 3,000 BC. In the ancient times, spoons were made out of a variety of materials like animal horns, fish bones, seashells, wood, bronze, gold and silver. First silver spoons in Russia were made in 998 (at the request of Prince Vladimir's armed forces). Spoons in those days had a short handle and were held with the fist.

In the times of Baroque, after the presence of soups became commonplace on the dinner menus, the spoon that remained in the shadows up until this time, now comes to the forefront in all its splendor. Former method of handling the spoon -by simply clutching it in the fist - didn't go with camisoles and long wigs that men had to wear or with long dress trains of the garments women were wearing. Starting around 1860, the rules of etiquette required one to hold a spoon with three fingers. Craftsmen begin to make spoons with wider and flatter handles. Forks and spoons would oftentimes take on very unusual shapes and forms. For example, by the end of the first half of the 17th century, the handle length of the flatware has increased several times. This is how the flatware was changed in response to the protruding jabots and collars worn in those times.

Flatware was being decorated with extraordinary splendor. Various handle shapes (those of lotus, pearls, sea shells, violin, etc.) would be complimented with relief images of allegoric figures, complex emblems, or ornaments of floral or fruit pyramids.

Inscriptions on the flatware became very popular. Such flatware would be offered as a present with a symbolic meaning, or for the most important life events like birth of a child, christening, marriage, etc.
The flatware, for example, is connected to a custom of the time: the newlyweds had to partake of their wedding dish by using the same spoon as a sign of having to jointly deal with life's problems from now on. The favorite method of decorating the flatware was to contrast the knife and the fork. Their handles would be adorned, accordingly, with the relief images of men and women, of the god of War and the goddess of Love, or of monks and nuns.

By the end of the 17th century, the sharp-ended table knife was replaced with the knife with the rounded end in basically every European country.
It had to do with the fact that the habit of pinning pieces of food to the end of a knife before sending them to the mouth has been abandoned. The awl and the fork now had that function. In some countries, this transition was happening naturally, but in France it took a royal decree to accomplish it. In 1669, in the times of Ludwig XIV, a verdict forbidding possession and use of sharp-ended table knives has been issued.

The 17th and especially the 18th century was the time when, due to the discovery of new sea ways and new territories, previously unknown in Europe products like tea, coffee and cacao, started appearing and becoming common. Distribution of these new products resulted in development of new centers of social life - the salons, coffee and teahouses. New drinks required a new kind of crockery and flatware.
The new culture of coffee and tea drinking resulted in the development of coffee and tea spoons, very much similar to the large tablespoons in shape, only half the size. While stirring the sugar in a cup, one had to gently hold on to the spoon with only two fingers. Soon, new traditions evolved related to the ceremony of tea drinking. So, for example, in the most "tea-loving" countries, England and the USA, one could only stop a hospitable host from constantly refilling one's teacup only by placing the teaspoon across the cup.

The same period of time has seen the evolvement of the first souvenir spoons. In Frisland (a region comprised of a part of Holland and the Northern Germany) spoons, featuring the most picturesque local sites and significant actual events rather than the non-existing pseudo-ancient scenery and events, have appeared for the first time. In Amsterdam, a spoon, which featured an unusually severe winter of 1675, has survived to this day. In the 19th century, such souvenirs have filled up all of Europe's markets.

Special devices were used in preparation of the most expensive and exotic drink of that time - the hot chocolate. Very much like the Aztec cooks who taught the Europeans to process chocolate, the cooks of the 18th century were mixing this drink in tall and wide pots until foam was formed. A special device - a ring attached to a thin rounded handle - was used for that purpose, the length of which corresponded to the size of the pot.
In the middle of the 18th century, the diversity of the flatware used at the table corresponded to the whimsical tastes of the capricious Rococo epoch.
"Life is a game, life is theater, life is a dream" was the basic internal principle of the culture of those times. The everyday necessity of food consumption becomes a picturesque ceremony. Different types of flatware like fragile and acutely shaped teaspoons, miniature sugar spoons decorated with pearls, airy cream spoons, dessert forks and cake knives, and special spatulas for serving desserts, etc., start to appear.

Around the same time, special trident devices for handling snails and oysters start to evolve; those also contained small blades for opening the shells. Genuine admiration was brought about by the soupspoons that were especially popular at the time. Those spoons had a special kind of guards attached to their ends that pushed the beard back and away from the lips while eating soups.
Silver "lances" that were being installed on the tables while serving the wild game became very popular and spread quickly in the aristocratic circles.

The Rococo culture was nearing its end. By the middle of the 18th century, the strict forms of the Empire style replaced the luscious Rococo epoch. The French post-revolutionary bourgeoisie were looking back at the forms of the antiquity.
"Simplicity and clarity" now dominated all aspects of the society's life. Large flatware, made primarily out of silver, elegant ivory and ebony found its place on the tables of the higher society.
In the decorative art, the changes took the following directions. The Empire style has straightened out the curly and wavy lines, brought back to life the clear and symmetric forms, and, in general, simplified the decorations. Soft and womanly decorative patterns have given way to the brave emblems of crossed swords, flags, lion masks and griffins adopted from the culture of the Roman Empire.
The aspirations to take all the best from the past resulted in the highest skill of imitation. The stylized flatware could barely be distinguished from the originals.
By the end of the 18th century, the double-toothed forks returned from the past. Their shapes reminded of the medieval flatware and this is why it's customary to classify it as the so-called Neogothic Viennese style.

The 19st century has introduced Europeans to the first joys of tourism. In history of flatware, this is the time of mass distribution of the souvenir spoons, forks, sugar bowls, etc.
Around the year 1900, a huge number of such flatware has been manufactured in Europe and the North America featuring engravings of historical and landscape sights, views of towns and state emblems. The favourite decoration was the portraits of famous people.

A flatware set of a fork, a spoon and a knife this "table trio" - became an inevitable attribute of our everyday life and the bigger part of our planet's population can barely imagine its life without it these days. Moreover, "having made its way to the higher society" , the flatware started increasing in number and changing its forms according to the needs and demands of the society, and now, in spite of the simplifications of traditions that took place in the 20th century, complete product lines offered by leading flatware manufacturers include about forty different kinds of flatware.

The different kinds of flatware will surprise not only an experienced restaurant goer, but also the professionals of the restaurant business. The fact that flatware designs of different manufacturers are oftentimes very dissimilar only adds to the confusion. Although however extravagant some flatware items might appear, all of those are extremely utalitarian, and the lists of available items, however long and daunting, will, eventually, end. And the most important thing is our knowledge of the many varities of the flatware and our ability to appropriately, elegantly and aesthetically use the most common of those.

You will be alble to read about that in the articles that will follow.

 
 
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