We wonder whether Members are familiar with "Thomas Coryate's Crudities, hastily gobled up in five moneths travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alias Switzerland, some parts of high Germany and the Netherlands; newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the county of Somerset, and now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this kingdome"? It describes his 1,975 mile walk across Europe in 1608. But after that, the "Odcombian Leg-stretcher" as he was known at court embarked upon a much more daring escapade when in 1612 he decided to walk to India. He succeeded in reaching Surat in 1617, but there he expired and almost all the many writings he produced in the course of this journey have been lost. What courage and curiosity though! He went from royal buffoon all the way to fakir and dervish.
I have never, to the best of my knowledge, read nor even eaten any of Coryat's Crudities, Sydney, but did he not help introduce the fork to England? The word fork comes from the Latin 'furca' for "pitch fork." The two-prong twig was perhaps the first fork. In Egyptian antiquity, large forks made of bronze were used at religious ceremonies to lift sacrificial offerings. One of the earliest dinner forks is attributed to Constantinople in 400 A.D.; it can be seen in the Dumbarton Oaks collection in Washington, D.C. By the seventh century, small forks were used at Middle Eastern courts; one such fork, a small, gold, two-pronged tool, came to Italy in the eleventh century in the dowry of a Byzantine princess who married Domenico Selvo, a Venetian doge. After witnessing the princess use the fork, the church severely censured her, stating that the utensil was an affront to God's intentions for fingers. Thereafter the fork disappeared from the table for nearly 300 years.
In England the fork was slow to gain acceptance because it was considered a feminine utensil. The exception was the 'sucket' fork, a utensil used to eat food that might otherwise stain the fingers, such as "a silvir forke for grene gynger" noted in an inventory taken in 1523 of Lady Hungerford's effects. The sucket fork was wrought with two prongs at one end of the stem and a bowl at the other. The fork end was used to spear food preserved in thick, sticky syrup, such as plums and grapes, and the spoon end to convey the syrup to the mouth.
When Catherine de Medici married Henry I in 1533, her dowry included several dozen dinner forks wrought by Benvenuto Cellini, the great Italian silversmith. The fork began to gain acceptance in Italy by the late sixteenth century, a period when upper-class Italians expressed renewed interest in cleanliness. However, the French court considered the fork an awkward, even dangerous, utensil, and the nobility did not accept it until the seventeenth century when protocol deemed it uncivilized to eat meat with both hands. The way to use the fork remained a mystery, and many sophisticates, notably King Louis XIV, continued to eat with fingers or a knife. In 1608, Thomas Coryate, son of the Rector of Odcombe, took the "grand tour" of Europe, and on his return published a narrative that included the Italian custom of eating with a fork. Thereafter, Coryate's friends jokingly called the young traveller 'Furciferus', Pitchfork.
"I observed a custome in all those Italian Cities and Townes through which I passed that is not used in any other country that I saw in my travels, neither doe I think that any other nation of Christendome doth use it, but only Italy. The Italian, and also most strangers that are cormorant in Italy, does alwaies at their meales, use a little fork when they cut the meate . . . their forkes being for the most part made of iron or steel, and some of silver, but these are used only by gentlemen. The reason of this their curiosity is because the Italian cannot endure by any means to have his dish touched by fingers, seeing that all men's fingers are not alike cleane. Hereupon I myself thought to imitate the Italian fashion by this forke cutting of meate, not only while I was in Italy, but also in Germany, and often-times in England since I came home."
Thomas Coryate, ‘Coryat's Crudities’ (1611)
The modern table setting is attributed to Charles I of England who in 1633 declared, "It is decent to use a fork," a statement that heralded the beginning of civilised table manners. But it was not until almost a century later that the fork gained acceptance among the lower class. In England, the acceptance of the fork encouraged preparation of continental recipes, such as 'olios' from Spain, a dish made with stewed meat taken with a fork as opposed to mashed food eaten from the blade of a knife. Because the average family owned a limited number of forks, historians suggest that the service of sherbet midway through a meal gave the servants time to wash the forks used earlier on. The first dinner forks were made with two flat prongs. The earliest two-prong fork to bear an English hallmark and engraved with a coat of arms dates to 1632 and is attributed to the Earl of Rutland. It can be seen today in the Victoria and Albert Museum.