No matter where you go to eat there will be a set of cutlery for you to use (excepting, of course, Chinese restaurants where you can obtain cutlery rather than chopsticks if you wish). The cutlery is always the same, one knife and one fork for every course, or a spoon for soup. The designs may vary but the tools remain the same. There has been some evolution in recent times though, to accommodate our desire for fast food and food on the run, which has led to the development of the spork, a half spoon and half fork creation designed especially for one-handed eating. But where did the use of such eating implements come from, who decided that these were the tools that we should eat with?
We need to go back to the seventeenth century to see the first use of the fork at the dining table, making it something of a recent addition to the cutlery drawer. But journey back around three hundred thousand years and you will discover that our ancestors were even then using crude knives to the first butcher and then carve the meat for their meals. Though these were very rough and formed from the stone they are the basis for the tools that we use today. When the Iron Age arrived the knives were refined, made stronger and sharper, their shape changed and became something that we would recognize today as a knife. Iron was the metal of choice for centuries, right up until the development of stainless steel in the nineteenth century.
The men who crafted the iron knives of old were known as cutlers. This name is a derivative of the Middle English ‘cutellerie’ which is itself derived from a word in old French which can be traced back to the original Latin ‘cutellus’ which translates as the knife. So you see not only has the design of the implement changed very little over centuries the name also remains true to its roots. The introduction of the fork posed something of a challenge to the masses, it was seen as something revolutionary, the work of the devil, after all, it was pronged just like the devil’s own fork. It took a long time for it to be accepted and used by the population of Europe; from its early development in the eleventh century, it wasn’t until the seventeenth century that it was accepted for popular use.