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British Culinary Utensils

Until late medieval times, spoons were the common eating implement used in Britain. This was partly because many people didn't have enough teeth to chew solid cuts of meat - so most was cooked until extremely soft. Communal knives would be scattered about if serious cutting became necessary. People ate off wooden trenchers or pewter dishes; there was no china.

Although forks had been mentioned in the Bible, and excavations show that they were sometimes used by Anglo-Saxons as far back as the late 8th century, they fell into disuse; and were ridiculed as fancy continental affectations - not for an honest Englishman.

Italians occasionally used forks in the 11th century, and Thomas Becket introduced them to the English court of Henry II - but they never gained acceptance on British shores. So even in Europe people still ate with a spoon and their fingers.

This was the state of play until towards the end of Elizabeth I reign, when Thomas Coryat, an English traveller, reintroduced forks to England from Italy, noting that "The Italian cannot by any means indure (sic) to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing all men's fingers are not alike cleane". These forks would have had two prongs until the end of the 18th century, when four-pronged forks became standard. By then, even the lower classes in England had started to use forks.

Americans were later to adopt this implement, and continued to use just knives until after the Civil War - special fish forks, oyster forks and dessert forks all suddenly became fashionable; even ice cream being eaten with a fork.

Even nowadays, there are differences - right-handed Englishmen and Europeans keep their forks in their left hands, while Americans generally put down their knives and switch their forks from left hand to right.

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