The famous New York Yankee baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “When you see a fork in the road take it.” Known for his malaprops, I wonder how Yogi would …
The famous New York Yankee baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “When you see a fork in the road take it.” Known for his malaprops, I wonder how Yogi would fare at a formal dinner table with full place settings of multiple forks, knives and spoons.
For most of us, when you are eating something other than a sandwich, the only utensils you need are a knife, fork and maybe a spoon. But if you are dining at an upscale restaurant or attending a fancy formal dinner the cutlery choices can be mind-boggling.
Multiple forks, knives and spoons are arranged around your dinner plate like planets and asteroids circling the Sun. Some of the silverware utensils have no identifiable purpose. What is the function of those tweezers, for example? Tiny forks and spoons looking more suitable for a little girl’s pretend tea party await your usage.
The use of cutlery at mealtimes has a long history. Way before there were any eating utensils ancient humans ate with their hands. When Og, the head of a Neanderthal clan, sat on a boulder at the head of the cave to eat fried woolly rhino tail he ripped the meat apart with his hands. Thanks to his overly hairy body clean-up was easy. He wiped his greasy hands on his chest.
To examine the growth of cutlery use we should briefly explore the dining table. In Medieval times the dining table was a plank of wood supported by framed supports. The only ornament on the table was the salt cellar. Honored guests were seated “above the salt.” If you were placed at the other end of the table, you were considered a lower class. There were no tablecloths nor napkins at the table.
One step above the Neanderthals on the hygiene scale, diners wiped their greasy hands on their clothes. Nobody had to deal with confusing placement of utensils. Meal participants were responsible to provide their own which usually was just the knife they usually carried anyway for defense.
During the Renaissance, meals were served with a little more elegance. Hosts provided tablecloths. So, there was no need to wipe your hands on your clothes. Instead, everyone wiped their hands on the tablecloth. Eventually someone decided to give each guest a tiny individual piece of cloth to hold in their lap to clean their hands. I wonder why they did not call it a lapkin.
Most people brought their own knives to cut the food. Once cut, the meat was impaled on the sharp knife and put in the mouth. Many people sliced the inside of their mouth, so it became fashionable to dull the knife blades. Soon the fork made its appearance to pick up the sliced meat.
The 19th Century brought with it the decorative, ornate trappings on the dining table. It was also the beginning of the complicated place setting. A guest sat down to find a confusing array of cutlery surrounding the dinner plate.
There is a simple way to remember how to arrange the cutlery. Remember the word FORK. With the “O” representing a dinner plate, the “F” indicates that the fork is placed to the left of the plate. The “K and S” representing knives and spoons, go on the right. It is not a faultless device because the “R” in FORK is not utilized.
Maybe the “R” in the word FORK can be used to “Remind” you to start by using the cutlery furthest away from the dinner plate and working your way in, course by course.
If Yogi Berra was told that there was a proper way to use the cutlery surrounding the dinner plate, the Hall of Fame catcher might have responded “The only plate I care about is home plate.”