Knives gained a rather recent seat at the table

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on May 02, 2012 - 04:35 PM

Photo: What started as a weapon and a tool found a practical place at the dinner table as well. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

What started as a weapon and a tool found a practical place at the dinner table as well. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

We appreciate the wonderful taste of food as it reaches our mouths and fills our senses, but eating as we do today wouldn’t have been as easy if it weren’t for utensils, and the table knife is one of three utensils most used in today’s enjoyment of foods.

This is the second of three articles on the items of cutlery that make our dining experience easier; the first, last week, told about the spoon.

The knife is the only piece of cutlery used since prehistoric times for feeding, as a weapon, and as a tool. It is only in fairly recent times that knives have been designed specifically for table use.

In Europe’s Middle Ages, hosts did not provide cutlery for their guests. Most people carried knives in sheaths attached to their belts (the same ones that they also used for hunting and protection). The sharply pointed ends were used to spear food and raise it to one’s mouth. That was around the 15th century.

Prior to the Middle Ages, knives were made of stone as very simple cutting edges. During the Neolithic times (5000-2000 B.C.) stone blades were fitted with crude handles made of wood or animal hide. From 3000-700 B.C. (the Bronze Age) metal knives were made first from copper, then bronze. Much later came iron, silver and steel. But there is substantial evidence that the knife was not regarded primarily as an eating utensil until the Middle Ages and even then, your host did not provide a knife for you; you brought your own.