Consider the Fork Over the Holidays

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

consider the fork by bee wilson“The holidays are upon us,” my mother used to say, implying the holidays were like Baskervilleian hell hounds after our tails. I think in this analogy we are the fox.

Some people feel in the time between the lead-up to Thanksgiving through New Years as if they are “between the wars.” There is so much feasting and an unusual formality to our dining and decorum. As children, my sister and I were assigned the duty before my grandmother’s fancy blowout Christmas parties of setting the table. Wine goblets. Blunt-nosed butter knives. Plates for each person’s roll. The table so arrayed in glory and glassware looked like a Dutch Old Master still life.

Which is why Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat makes a timely read. (And a great gift.) Consider the fork? Indeed why hadn’t I before? And a hundred other things Wilson addresses: the ice, spoons, ovens, fridges that I have taken for granted my whole life. They are fairly new on the scene.

The first fork (a two-pronged golden one used by a Byzantine princess who married the Doge of Venice in the eleventh century) “attracted scorn and laughter.” My ancestors, barbarians, were happily using their big meaty hands on meat.

It wasn’t until the 1600s in Italy that forks became acculturated because people were eating pasta and have you watched a toddler try to hang on to a strand of slippery linguini?

Throughout the book goodies like this are studded like candied fruit in a Christmas fruit cake. You’ll have jolly ice breakers for holiday parties. Such as, Did you know, office friend, that “the Victorians were masters of ice cream technology”? That in China traditionally a hunk of meat was an affront? And using a knife at the table a barbarity? You’ll eye the groaning holiday board with fresh perspective.


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