Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fork Etiquette and Fork Designs for the Gilded Age

"The safest rule to remember about forks is that, for everything which may possibly be eaten with a fork or cut with a fork, a fork is to be preferred to any other piece of silver."
"Forks, we are told, did not become common until the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth. The earliest known paragon of perfect manners, the Prioress in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, very evidently had never seen a fork. Instead, she is featured by Chaucer because 'well she could carry a morsel and well keep, that no drop fell upon her breast.' But, if forks were slow in coming into popularity, they have certainly arrived and are now the most important part of table service next to the actual food itself. 
An 1894 design for a pickle fork.  Many foods were still commonly home pickled at the time, as "tinned," or canned, foods remained quite expensive. Pickled carrots, asparagus, snap peas, a variety of fruits, eggs, etc... were still served regularly at the table.
A selection of oyster, lobster claw and fruit forks from the 1890s.
The safest rule to remember about forks is that, for everything which may possibly be eaten with a fork or cut with a fork, a fork is to be preferred to any other piece of silver. If it proves quite impossible to get the food safely on the fork without assistance of some sort, one may use a small piece of bread or roll or cracker in the left hand as a 'push bread.'" From Etiquette, Jr., by Mary E. Clark and Margery Closey Quigley 1926, Drawing by Erick Berry
1873 design for fruit forks ~ The inverted "umbrella was presumably to catch fruit or fruit juice, that could possibly escape while one ate.  Below is the ornate design for a handle for forks or other utensils.



Below is another design from 1893. It is a "knork" or knife/fork combination utensil, designed to eat pie more easily.

              

     Below is another, more interesting tined pie fork, from 1897.


                

Compiled by contributor, and Etiquipedia site moderator, Maura Graber, who has been teaching etiquette to children, teens and adults, and training new etiquette instructors, for nearly a quarter of a century, as founder and director of The RSVP Institute of Etiquette.  She is also a writer, has been featured in countless newspapers, magazines and television shows. Maura was an on-air contributor to PBS in Southern California for 15 years, and has an odd love of strange and unique dining utensils.