Polite eating began with the spoon

Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Apr 25, 2012 - 04:42 PM

Photo: Here are a few examples of the many shapes and sizes of spoons found in today’s households; from left, salt spoon, teaspoon, sugar spoon, berry spoon, condiment spoon, tablespoon, soup spoon, mustard or mayonnaise spoon, and demitasse spoon. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Here are a few examples of the many shapes and sizes of spoons found in today’s households; from left, salt spoon, teaspoon, sugar spoon, berry spoon, condiment spoon, tablespoon, soup spoon, mustard or mayonnaise spoon, and demitasse spoon. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

This is the beginning of a series of three stories featuring the history of our modern day spoon, knife and fork. The eating utensils we use and the ways we use them are the result of centuries of experimentation. We begin with the spoon which is believed to be the oldest of all eating utensils.

The spoon is defined in some dictionaries as an eating or cooking implement consisting of a small shallow bowl with a relatively long handle. But that definition would not hold true with what is believed by historians to be the very first utensil used as a spoon in Southern Europe: a sea shell. In fact, both the Greek and Latin words for spoon are derived from cochiea, meaning a spiral-shaped snail shell. In Northern Europe everything points to the use of wood splinters or chips as spoons. The Anglo-Saxon word "spon," from which the English word spoon derives, means just that—a chip or splinter of wood. Yes, spoons in one form or another have been used as eating utensils since Paleolithic times.

Coastal peoples had access to an abundance of shells while others far inland had access to stone and flint. A stick fastened to a shell or a chip of wood allowed for a longer reach and protection from steam if a liquid was hot, thus the birth of the spoon.