The Pioneer Woman's Fork and Knife

Yesterday we stopped at the library for a quick stop on our way to find a birthday present for a party Anders' is attending. They happened to have a special talk going on when we got there--a woman dressed up in 1820s clothing, pretending to be Mrs. Snelling, the wife of Colonel Snelling, one of the early residents of what was then called Fort St. Anthony, now called Ft. Snelling. Fort Snelling was the start of Minneapolis/St. Paul. We sat in for a while. The boys did well at the beginning--I think they were actually quite interested--but it couldn't keep their attention forever.

The historian, playing the role of Mrs. Snelling, told us what life was like in her time. The closest city was St. Louis: 700 miles away. There were no roads in Minnesota, so boating up the river was the only way of travel. No refrigerators, so you had to be prepared for the winter. Stoves were new technology, so no one in the plains had them.

One of the interesting things she showed us was the eating utensils they used back then. It was a broad, flat knife (no serrations) and a two-pronged fork. That was standard. No matter what you were eating. And the knife was the main utensil--it was held in the right hand.

There's an old poem I memorized when I was little that goes:
I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on my knife
It turns out, the poem was true.

They ate with a knife in a fork in the 1820s for two reasons. The first was that the British had a different utensil for every food and course of the meal. After going through two wars with England, Americans had little love for anything British. Using only two utensils was a backlash against them.

The second reason was that, according to this historic actor, they believed that everyone was created equal. If an soldier's family was eating with the colonel, they didn't have to worry about showing their lack of education or upbringing because they didn't know which utensil to use. Everyone was equal at the table: a place of gathering, fellowship and unity.

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