The insular and obscure world of comparative domestic evolutionary implementology was rocked today with news of an exciting find: Mrs. John Jacob Astor's spork. Reaction among the small community of scientists devoted to this field of study was immediate and amazed. "This is an incredible discovery," said Professor Johnson Denning "because it literally forces us re-write the modern flatware family tree."
The lowly spork was long thought to be a pop culture development from the 1950's or 1960's and introduced to the American table at the school lunch counter. As such, it was surely first rendered in plastic, not fine steel, silver, or gold. The appearance of this sterling silver example at a recent consignment auction at New York auction giant Sotheby's completely turns that theory on its ear, however. The spork clearly appeared early in the evolution of American flatware, and only found widespread opportunities for survival as a plastic implement some fifty years later.
Upon hearing the news, proponents of the theory of Intelligent Design protested vehemently. "You mean they're going to re-write the flatware evolutionary tree again?" said Professor Ava Marbury. "How can we trust in a 'supposed' theory of natural selection when the so-called 'experts' can't even agree on what is descended from what and where key features first appeared. There is obviously intelligence at work... not random chance."
Ok, ok... really. I was reading an article at the gym this morning about all the pieces of silverware we don't use anymore, except in restaurants where there are no prices on the menu. To complement the article, they showed two pictures: one of a modern full place setting (including the shellfish fork, marrow spoon, and sauce fork) and the other of a full place setting from 100 years ago (including the oyster fork, chowder spoon, and salt spoon.) Among the other curiousities (like the asparagus tongs and the bacon fork,) there was the lowly ice cream spoon... which you see above.
I think I need to work on my table manners a little bit. I discovered from the article that I eat in the Continental style (fork always in the left hand, tines facing down, and knife always in the right, ready to cut food or push in onto the fork) but I'm a bit lax about putting my elbows in the table. I also doubt that I move my soup spoon away from me as I fill it with soup. I've certainly never used a marrow spoon... even when I've had veal osso buco.
Table manners are becoming a lost art in America, I fear. We are a fast food nation, where our forks and knives are often plastic. Our parents were the ones where instructed in proper table etiquette. I had a smattering instruction from my parents... but they were certainly not from the families that tended toward the formalities of "high tea" and multi-course dinners.
Of course, I suppose that I have to take this all in with a sense of balance. I can certainly use chopsticks (the oldest type of table implement still extant) far better than my parents ever could. I can recall one occasion where yours truly (an American of European descent) went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a foreign born Japanese (who lived in the U.S. since the age of 5), a foreign born Chinese, and an American born Chinese. Of the four of us, three asked for chopsticks. I was initially given a fork, but had to trade with the American born Chinese -- he liked forks better.
on 2005-05-11 at 12:15 p.m.
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