Unlike contemporary table knives, those of the 18th and 19th century had dull and wide, flat blades. Usually they were steel. Many who were unfamiliar with utensils and their expected dining usage, found the knives ideal for not just cutting with, but for eating from. By the mid-1800’s, etiquette books encouraged diners to stop the practice of eating their food from their knives. As etiquette books are often ignored, small numbers of several generations continued the practice.
A most popular food with which to show off one’s knife dining skills was peas. Many people practiced lining peas carefully upon a steel knife blade, to “pour” into their mouths, much to the chagrin of spouses and parents. A few uncouth, but industrious people even invented and designed special, “pea knives.” It took, as gentle reminders, repeated news and magazine articles over the years to finally get the practice all but abandoned. Two such articles are below:
Eating With a Knife is Not Insanity
LOS ANGELES, Mar. 4 (AP)—Eating with a knife is not insanity. Mrs. Kathryn Brown contended it was, in contesting the will of her sister, Mrs. Margaret Dillon, who left her $25,000 estate to her 12-year-old grand niece, Margaret Keating, of New York. Mrs. Brown testified Mrs. Dillon, although well reared, had been eating with a knife and suffered from a delusion that she was an experienced driver, despite the fact that she owned no car. A superior court jury yesterday found Mrs. Dillon was not insane and upheld the terms of her will. — San Pedro Pilot News, 1931
Gossip of Railwayman
Frederick Shoup of the Passenger Department of the Southern Pacific is a man of many parts. He is not only said to be good looking, but has so persuasive a tongue that it would enable him to sell gold bricks, even to Hetty Green. “Etiquette and table manners are all based on common sense,” remarked Frederick to Charles Burkhalter and John Ross, with whom he was dining at Fresno. “For instance, the reason why a man does not eat with his knife is because he is afraid of cutting his lips.” “Well, that is true,” replied Burkhalter, as he lifted the duck on which Shoup was feasting from Fred’s plate to his own. “You see how simple it is.” Shoup rambled on, “Why don't we use a fork for our, soup? Why? Because the fork I could not scoop up enough of the soup.” “Well that is an idea,” observed John Ross, the great chocolate expert, as he appropriated Fred’s vegetables. “Everything is based on common sense,” continued the orator. “Why do we have napkins?” “Why?” asked Burkhalter, as he emptied Fred’s pint of Chianti. “To remove the stains of food from our fingers and mouths.” “Well, are you through talking?” said Burkhalter. “It is time to get to work.” “Work,” shouted Shoup, “why, man, I have had nothing to eat.” — San Francisco Call, 1908
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia©️ Etiquette Encyclopedia