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Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Tue May 28, 2013 5:06 pm
by Phoenix Rising
I've seen a lot of what are quoted as being medieval eating utensil sets around on the net, usually consisting of a iron knife, spoon and two pronged fork, along with a pouch to keep them in. Ditto eating knives.

How authentic are these for use in re-enactment, and if so, is there any evidence of such sets or eating knives being used?

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Tue May 28, 2013 9:36 pm
by Brother Ranulf
As always it depends on the period.

In the 12th century there were knives, spoons and skewers for eating, plus fingers. Earlier there is evidence for some of the very top echelons of Saxon society using two-pronged forks of silver - a 9th century example was found at Sevington in Wiltshire along with a very ornate silver spoon. These are now in the British Museum. Such things seem to have gone out of use at the Conquest, with wooden skewers taking their place - these are featured in the late 11th century Monasteriales Indicia (monastic sign language recorded at Canterbury) and in other varieties of monastic sign language. Knives and skewers are included with the group of signs relating to food and meals (between bread and boiled vegetables). I understand that dogwood was a traditional wood for these skewers since it will not splinter.

Forks obviously came back into use gradually, but I suspect they were fairly rare and aristocratic things.

There is plenty of evidence for knives at meals - in the monasteries, sand and whetstones were provided near the lavatorium (washing facilities outside the refectory) for the monks to scour and sharpen the knives which they all carried.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed May 29, 2013 6:26 am
by Brother Ranulf
Spoons in the 12th century seem to have been used when required by the kind of foodstuff being served. Wace (in Roman de Rou verse 1871, written in the 1160s) states that at a meal in a manor house "I do not know what they had to eat, but they needed spoons, which were provided by the chamberlain . . .". The chamberlain in the story counted the spoons before and after the meal, discovering that one had been taken. Clearly the aristocrats and servants were not carrying their own spoons at that time.

Wooden spoons were likely more widely used in lower class settings and few have survived - I know of a partial 12th century example found at York and made of yew wood, the shallow bowl 68 mm long and 45 mm wide:

spoonbowl york.jpg
spoonbowl york.jpg (8.46 KiB) Viewed 13621 times


Just for my own interest I searched for "medieval fork" on the British Museum, V&A and Museum of London websites and got no results, just post-medieval examples.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed May 29, 2013 1:30 pm
by Colin Middleton
AFAIK, your basic eating set was a knife and bone, horn, wooden or metal spoon.

Toward the end of the 15th C, forks started comming into fashion to eat certain sweet-meats, but most foods were carried to mouth by the fingers, or spoon if the were drippy.

Prickers (metal spikes) were also known, but were mostly associated with hunting sets and cutting up the carcas.

If you're thinking of something like this Image, I'd avoid it like the plague. I've never seen any evidence to support this style of knife or fork and I'm highly suspicious of the spoon too. As for the pouch, I'm pretty sure that it's fantasy.

Pouches, when used appear to take the form of a tapering tube, closesly moulded to the items carried in it and usually highly decorated. The MoL Knives and Scabbards book has hundreds of such examples (they normally carry just the knife or knives), but none that look like the one above.

Best wishes

Colin

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed May 29, 2013 4:08 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Thanks for both replies - very informative from both of you. Yes, the one you show Colin is the type I was talking about - so, there's no proof whatsoever of these type of knives etc being used, or the pouch for that matter.

Like the way the Chamberlain counted the spoons, must have been watching the pennies!

Interesting Brother Ranulf that you said such things were known to have been made of metal, but then, after the conquest, there is a change to wooden implements. Would that change have occurred due to cost, or for other reasons, I wonder? Or was it always the case that most folks used wood, and the higher echelons of society were the ones with enough money to afford the more ostentatious metal implements?

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed May 29, 2013 8:37 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Saxon royalty was surprisingly well connected through trade with Byzantium, Scandinavia, North Africa, even India and beyond - peacocks were in England during Saxon times as a result of this. So pepper, gold, silver, onyx, amber and other precious/semi-precious stones were coming to England and kitting out the rich and famous, while poor old Saewulf the goatherd was eating mud and living in a hole in the ground. Silver forks must have been as rare as horse feathers and there is no evidence of any examples made of other metals, so they were "known" but definitely not widespread.

My own guess, for what it's worth, is that eating habits of the lower classes (that is nearly everyone) changed not at all after 1066, while the upper classes of Saxon England became an extinct species almost overnight. Their eating habits died out with them and the Normans introduced their own aristocracy and everything that went with it, so it should not really be any surprise that the tables of the royals and nobility were organised differently. But in monetary terms most people could not afford good quality metal stuff until after the Black Death produced pay increases across the board as a result of an acute shortage of labour.

I was reading recently about a chap in London who makes replicas of medieval wooden spoons found in that area - the sad fact being that only a very few wooden spoons have ever been found. His own theory is that most were made of horn that have not survived even in waterlogged areas. There is still a lot of detail on this and other everyday stuff that we known very little about.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed May 29, 2013 11:56 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Poor folks in the land as usual having to put up with what they could find / make, whilst the rich lived it up...nothing much changes does it?

Can see how the Conquest would have changed it all for the higher echelons though, one minute riding high, the next becoming little more than a nobody whilst some Norman lord took all your estates, servants, title etc. Must have produced some very large social changes indeed.

Some thought provoking stuff...

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 8:23 pm
by guthrie
Colin Middleton wrote:AFAIK, your basic eating set was a knife and bone, horn, wooden or metal spoon.

Toward the end of the 15th C, forks started comming into fashion to eat certain sweet-meats, but most foods were carried to mouth by the fingers, or spoon if the were drippy.

Prickers (metal spikes) were also known, but were mostly associated with hunting sets and cutting up the carcas.

If you're thinking of something like this Image, I'd avoid it like the plague. I've never seen any evidence to support this style of knife or fork and I'm highly suspicious of the spoon too. As for the pouch, I'm pretty sure that it's fantasy.

Pouches, when used appear to take the form of a tapering tube, closesly moulded to the items carried in it and usually highly decorated. The MoL Knives and Scabbards book has hundreds of such examples (they normally carry just the knife or knives), but none that look like the one above.

Best wishes

Colin

What he said.
That set fulfils my general criteria for "medieval-ish", which is about all that some people can manage, and, regrettably, all that some organisers and public demand.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Sat Jun 29, 2013 7:48 pm
by gregory23b
I would question the pricker thing, I have seen them used in lieu of a fork, but why use a spike when fingers are better to hold the meat down? Pricker - more like an edge keeper.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Mon Jul 01, 2013 7:45 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
I would not want to be shoving food into my mouth using a large bodkin, too much room for accidents. I can however use a fork if I wanted to-they are established in Italy in the 1420's. The rest of you will have to wait about a hundred years.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:57 pm
by gregory23b
More so as the knife is not to be used to eat with but to carve, if the knife is not to be used, then neither is a spike.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 9:26 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
I agree, food should be small enough for you to either ladle up with a spoon or pick up with your fingers.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Tue May 26, 2015 5:09 pm
by couteaufin
If you are looking for a pic of a mediaeval sweetmeat fork, there is one in Table Knives and Forks, Shire publication, p.10. The pic is not very clear but the item is made from copper alloy with a gothic-styled two tine blade and hafted with scales of ebony. It was excavated from the River Thames about 30 years ago.

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Sat Jun 13, 2015 10:10 am
by Mark Griffin
Seem to recall Kings Lynn museum has some nice wooden spoons, some softwood. A good selection of domestic stuff in there archive, a couple of houses fell down late 15th and the sites abandoned. If I have access to my site reports... grrr... looks at cargo container with 5,000 books in....grrrrr

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 9:05 am
by The Peddler
Try moving house with 11,712 books. I've been giving them away left, right and centre to get the cost down!

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 9:17 am
by Mark Griffin
Why not just build an extension on the new house with the books. Great carbon footprint!

Re: Medieval Eating / Utensils

Posted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 5:46 pm
by guthrie
The Peddler wrote:Try moving house with 11,712 books. I've been giving them away left, right and centre to get the cost down!

I'm always on the look out for more books, only got around 5k so far.