Cutlery has always been part of human culture, evidenced from findings dating back thousands of years. Knives and spoons have been found in various excavation sites around the world, many of which were created during the Stone Age. Knives found from this period were shaped out of sharpened rocks or flint, while spoons were crudely carved from wood or fashioned from seashells with animal bones as handles.
It was during the Bronze Age (~3000 BC) when the first cutlery that resembles what we use today appeared. At this point in time, metals like bronze and copper were already being used in the creation of weapons and other items, including the knife and spoon. However, since bronze and copper were considered to be precious and rare metals back then, only a privileged few were able to own and use these metal-eating utensils – usually, those people who belong in the royal and higher classes of society.
The Anglo-Saxons were documented in the history of cutlery to have used wooden spoons up to the 5th Century AD, which they called a ‘spon.’ Around this time, whether by their influence or not, people from other places also started making and using their own versions of a ‘spon’ crafted from wood, bones, and other available materials.
The fork came much later, though it is still unclear as to exactly when. There are accounts of the fork first appearing in the 11th century after having been brought to Italy by a Greek princess married to an Italian nobleman. However, other records show that it was only during the 1500s that Italians started using forks. The discrepancy can probably be attributed to the idea that the fork was greatly frowned upon when it first came about, mainly because it looks like the devil’s trident.
Although all three kitchen utensils are already in existence during these times, their use was only starting to gain popularity. For instance, it was only around the year 1530 that the French started using spoons, thanks to the Italian Catherine de Medicis who brought them to France. It is also said that it was during this time that spoons started circulating among the different places in Europe, although it seems that they weren’t widely accepted just yet. In this same century, around 1560 to be precise, the once shunned forks were starting to be used in Italy by more people.
Regarding forks, it was in the early 1600s that they became a regular part of dinner tables in Europe. Initially, forks were mostly only used to hold the meat while cutting, as opposed to transferring food from the plate to the mouth. It was also then that knives and forks were introduced to the Americas, particularly to the colonies. The cutlery knives brought to these places were usually blunt-tipped, a design likely influenced by King Louis XIV, who prohibited the manufacture and usage of knives with sharp and pointed tips in France in order to lessen the cases of knife-related violence there. Forks came in different designs by the 18th century, with four-pronged forks being used in Germany while two-pronged forks were used in England.
Although many eating utensils like ‘tomato spoons’ and ‘sardine forks’ were already common in the early 19th century, eating utensils similar to the ones we know today weren’t common until nearly 100 years later. The events that paved the way for modern-day cutlery were the invention of stainless steel and the ability to manufacture quality utensils economically that would last long enough to be practical. In the later part of the same century, plastic was developed, which allowed for the production of disposable eating utensils that we commonly see today.