The Devil Didn’t Invent the Fork

4:06:34 PM, Thursday, September 08, 2011

"A silverware spoiler: People used to hate the fork. When first introduced in Italy, and then in France and England, it did not go over well.

And we're not talking about the kind of eh, I'm-not-going-to-use-that-weird-thing kind of dislike; we're talking straight TOOL OF THE DEVIL abhorrence.

The whole history of the fork started off pretty benign—at least from what we can tell. The Greeks used a fork-like tool to keep their kill from twisting around while they carved it. The thing had two spears extending toward the table that secured meat and then slid easily from the flesh. A similarly styled instrument also popped up in royal courts in the Middle East in the 7th century, but this time it was used for actual eating. Because the fork was straight from handle to tine, picking up food required a stab and lift motion. Something like peas were absolutely out of the question, but we'll get to that later.

The fork drama really started when a Byzantine-born princess married the doge of Venice in 1005. She ate with a set of golden forks she brought with her, and the Italians were not pleased. "Food was a gift from God, and to use an artificial means of conveying it to the mouth implied that this heavenly gift was unfit to be touched by human hands," explains the book Feeding Desire. The plague caught up with her shortly thereafter, and Venice clergymen claimed her use of the two-pronged (horned!) utensil of vanity prompted the punishment from God.

This tool-of-the-devil branding effectively buried the flatware. "The fork was fraught with such negative meaning when first introduced in Europe that it didn't resurface for several centuries," says Darra Goldstein, Editor-in-Chief of the food and culture journal Gastronomica. But by the 1500s, Italians finally got behind what looked like a straight, small, pointy tuning fork. Forward-thinking travelers brought the innovative implement back to France and England, but instead of excitement over a clean-handed future, the fork was met with much skepticism. The French thought that, at just a few inches in length, it was too effeminate to use. And the English, like the early Italians, felt that God had deemed it unnecessary..."