jueves, 26 de febrero de 2015

Of forks and pasta, history of the cutlery

Spoon, fork and knife are everyday tools in our homes. Etiquette talks about it extensely, and there is an universal language too, in order to communicate with the waiters what you want to tell them! You don't believe it? Read it down below! That's pretty interesting huh?

1) If the fork and the knife are disposed in a parallel, horizontal position they means that the dish is really great! We enjoyed it a lot! You're a Masterchef!

2) If the fork and knife are forming a sharp angle it means that, even if you're enjoying the dish, you just can't go on eating, you need a pause...for the moment! We'll be back devorating the dish soon, we promise!

3) Ouch! When the knife is forming a sharp angle with the fork but the knife in between the fork's tines...start fearing for the worse! You could be bound to lose your third Michelin star! This means infact that the dish is not good enough, they're not enjoying it at all!

4) If the fork and the knife are perpendicular to each other with the fork being vertical and the knife horizontal, well, that means that the the waiter can serve us another course. You can use this after you've had a stop, just like you did in step 2.

5) This is very popular. If the knife and the fork are parallel to each other it means simply that we're full. The dish is over, stop serving us, please. Just bring the bill to our friends, they'll pay for us too!

The fork and the pasta, history if a love affair:

How was the cutlery invented? That's the million dollar question! Well, we have to differentiate a little bit, there's cutlery and there's cutlery. Spoon and knife are quintessential tools to cut and to...spoon! They were created at the very dawn of humanity, we do not have any information about their creator (a Neanderthal? A Cro-Magnon? Who knows?).

Of course, there is a piece of cutlery that is very rich in history, and it's the fork: today it is a symbol of Western cuisine: in many other cultures there is no fork, if you think about it! Well, the fork is a Roman invention, at least the European-style fork. When the Western Empire fell, many cultural innovations were lost because of the Barbarian reigns throughout Old Continent. The fork remained in use in the Eastern Roman Empire, that is Constantinople, that is today's Instanbul. Only after the year 1000 the fork went back in Europe, passing through the Door of the East, Venice.

Funny enough, the mysterious object called "fork" no sooner had it came back to Western World than it was forbidden by the Church! It reminded very closely the Devil's trademark fork itself! Danger! Danger! 

"I maccheronari", or when the spaghetti were a popular streetfood. Picture of Carlo Brogi (1850-1912)

From the Serenissima (or Venice), the fork, thanks also to the negative advertising coming from the Church (as if we were talking about an Harry Potter or a Da Vinci Code ante litteram) sprout throughout Italy. In the XIV century, in the Reign of Naples, we can find a document advising people to use a "wooden pricker" in order to easily eat food that was at that time the great innovation: the Pasta! 

"Poverty and Nobilty" of the great Totò, showing us the 
way spaghetti were eaten back then in the 1800s

From the elegant Court of Florence, thanks to Caterina de' Medici the fork was introduced also in northern European countries starting from France. Charles V of Spain had even a complete collection of forks, they said. Louis XIV of France, the epitome of elegance indeed, did not like the foks: he used hands!

It is interesting to point out that the forks were banned from the convents until well into the 1700s!

But we have to wait until the 1800s to assist to the birth of the modern-days fork, the one with four prongs. Why exactly four? The answer, my friend, is in the Spaghetti! No, don't worry, we're not Pastafarian dudes, even if we respect every religion, ok?

For the geek ones, apparently the answer is not 42, but is to be found in the spaghetti.

It is said that the King of Naples, Ferdinan II of Bourbon, was completely and deeply mad about spaghetti (who doesn't?). The problem was that in the XIX century the spaghetti were eaten with...the hands! This delicious dish was inelegible for the elegant and formal occasions and so the King was forced to renounce to his favourite dish, the gastronomical excellence of his beloved Reign. The three prongs forks were infact completely useless against spaghetti: try it at home, you simply can't twirl spaghettis on a three pronged fork! There must be four or nada de nada

The palace of Caserta, where the four pronged fork was created.

From his wondrous Palace, the Reggia di Caserta (maybe Europe's biggest royal palace) the good Ferdinando told his problem to Gennaro Spadaccini. The Genial Gennaro went back with the solution: a four-pronged fork, with shorter tines! Perfect to twirl his majesty's spaghetti of Gragnano. Bourbons were at the time the true trend-setters, and in this way the innovation sprout all over Europe in a blink of an eye. From the Courts, it was then adopted by all social classes.

Well, we must be grateful to the dear Gennaro Spadaccini, it's thanks to him that we use a modern and useful Forchetta or fork!

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