Men in the West used always to carry knives about with them, finding them indispensable for hundreds of purposes – including that of slicing food at the table. Written in the 6th century, The Rule of St Benedict requires monks to go to bed dressed and ready to rise the next morning but advises them to detach their knives from their belts in case they cut themselves during the night. In the Middle Ages only the nobility had special food knives, which they took with them when travelling: hosts were not usually expected to provide cutlery for dinner guests.
To this day in parts of France, men carry with them their own personal folding knives, which they take out of their pockets and use for preference at intimate gatherings for dinner. Small boys love being given folding pen-knives with many attachments; these are the descendants of this ancient male perquisite. Women must also have owned knives, but they have almost invariably been discouraged from being seen using them. Swords and knives are phallic and masculine. In ancient Greece it was hoped women who killed themselves would politely refrain from using knives and opt for poison or the noose instead.
At many medieval dinner tables men and women ate in couples from a bowl shared between them, and when they did, men were expected courteously to serve their female partners, cutting portions of meat for them with their knives. Prevention of the violence which could so easily break out at table is, as we have seen, one of the principal aims of table manners. In the West, where knives have not been banished, we are especially sensitive and vigilant about the use of these potential weapons.
“When in doubt, do not use your knife” is a good all-purpose rule. We must cut steaks and slices of roast with knives but the edge of a fork will do for an omelette, or for boiled potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables, especially if no meat is being served with them. If a knife is needed, in a right-handed person it will be occupying the right hand. The American way is to put the knife down when it has done its work, and take up the fork in the right hand; the fork is now available for breaking vegetables as well as lifting what has been cut. Europeans hold on to the knife and have to cut vegetables with it, since the fork is kept in the less capable hand.
Before the invention of stainless steel in the 1920s, the taste of blade metal was often said to ruin the flavour of fish, especially if it was seasoned with lemon. (Fruit knives were made of silver because of the acid in fruit.) Special fish-knives were invented in the 19th century: they were silver or silver plate, ostentatiously unsharpened, and given a whimsical shape to show that they were knives whose only business was gently deboning and dividing cooked fish. Before fish knives, fish was eaten with a fork in the right hand and a piece of bread, as a pusher, held in the left. Two forks were used to serve it, and sometimes to eat it as well. Eating fish with forks long remained the choice of the aristocracy: silver fish knives and their matching forks were middle-class, a parvenue invention.
Laying one’s table with them was a sign that one had bought the family silver, instead of inheriting it and the ancient ways that it was made to serve. Fish knives have often been frowned on during this century, being thought quaintly decorative, too specialised, or over-refined; they are said to be reasserting themselves on middle-class tables. The French insist that salad should never be cut with a knife: it must be torn in pieces by hand before it goes into the salad bowl, and then, after dressing, eaten with a fork. The rule probably arose from the taste and stain of metal from a steel knife, an especial danger for French lettuce because it was always dressed with oil and vinegar or lemon. The British and Americans, who used far less “French dressing, ” have always found this French fashion effete.
Lettuce is not cut in France partly because lettuce leaves are supposed to be too tender to need cutting; in the same way, the French – overturning Erasmus’s advice in his famous book on the manners of boys – are shocked by knives being used on bread at table. The change to breaking rather than cutting bread, among the 18th-century French aristocracy, seems to have been part of the move towards an elegant simplicity in manners as the new hallmark of good taste. French bread is not usually sliced for buttering or for toasting; Anglo-Saxon methods of eating bread often require knives for spreading as well as cutting, and also the provision of butter plates. Pain de campagne, the large, solid, round country loaf of France, is correctly cut in pieces: a man may whip out his pocket knife, grip the loaf under his arm, and carve out a slice. He must cut from the outer edge and towards his own body, so that no one else is endangered by his exploit. “Viennese” baguettes, on the other hand, are soft white table bread; they are sliced, but away from the table, and served in a bread-basket. The refusal to cut them at table is a statement about the kind of bread it is, and a distinction that is being made between it and pain de campagne.
Food and drink news
Food and drink news
1/26 New York restaurant named best in the world
A New York restaurant where an average meal for two will cost $700 has been named the best in the world. Eleven Madison Park won the accolade for the first time after debuting on the list at number 50 in 2010. The restaurant was praised for a fun sense of fine-dining, “blurring the line between the kitchen and the dining room”
2/26 Why you crave bad food when you’re tired
Researchers at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University in Chicago recently presented their results of a study looking into the effects of sleep deprivation upon high-calorific food consumption. Researchers found that those who were sleep-deprived had “specifically enhanced” brain activity to the food smells compared to when they had a good night’s sleep
3/26 Drinking wine engages more of your brain than solving maths problems
Drinking wine is the ideal workout for your brain, engaging more parts of our grey matter than any other human behaviour, according to a leading neuroscientist. Dr Gordon Shepherd, from the Yale School of Medicine, said sniffing and analysing a wine before drinking it requires “exquisite control of one of the biggest muscles in the body”
4/26 British dessert eating surges after people ditch healthy eating in February
: In heartening news for anyone feeling guilty about quitting their New Year diet, it seems lots of us have given in to our sweet tooths once again. New data from nationwide food-delivery service Deliveroo reveals there was a surge in Brits ordering desserts in February compared to the first month of 2017
5/26 US congress debates definition of milk alternatives
A new bill has been created that seeks to ban dairy alternatives from using the term ‘milk’. Titled the DAIRY PRIDE Act, the name is a tenuous acronym for ‘defending against imitations and replacements of yogurt, milk, and cheese to promote regular intake of dairy every day’. It argues that the dairy industry is struggling as a result of all the dairy-free alternatives on the market and the public are being duped too
6/26 Cadbury’s launches two new chocolate bars
UK confectionary giant Cadbury has launched two new chocolate bars, hoping to lure those with a sweet tooth and perhaps help combat some of the challenges it faces from rising commodity prices and a post-Brexit slump in the value of the pound.The company’s new products will be peanut butter and mint flavoured. They will be available in most major super markets as 120g bars, priced at £1.49, according to the company
7/26 You can now get a job as a professional chocolate eater
The company responsible for some of your favourite chocolate brands – think Cadbury, Milks, Prince and Oreo – have officially announced an opening to join their team as a professional chocolate taster. The successful candidate will help them to test, perfect and launch new products all over the world.
8/26 MSG additive used in Chinese food is actually good for you, scientist claims
For years, we’ve been told MSG (the sodium salt of glutamic acid) - often associated with cheap Chinese takeaways - is awful for our health and to be avoided at all costs. But one scientist argues it should be used as a “supersalt” and encourages adding it to food.
9/26 Lettuce prices are rising
Not only are lettuces becoming an increasingly rare commodity in supermarkets, but prices for the leafy vegetables seem to be rising too. According to the weekly report from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a pair of Little Gem lettuces had an average market price of £0.86 in the week that ended on Friday, up from an average of £0.56 in the previous week – that’s an almost 54 per cent increase.
10/26 Food School
Kids celebrate Food School graduation with James Martin – a campaign launched by Asda to educate young people on where food comes from. New research has revealed that children across the UK just aren’t stepping up to the plate when it comes to simple facts about the food they eat – with almost half of children under eight not knowing that eggs come from chickens
11/26 ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant
To encourage more people to cook and eat together, IKEA has launched The Dining Club in Shoreditch – a fully immersive ‘Do-It-Yourself’ restaurant . Members of the public can book to host a brunch, lunch or dinner party for up to 20 friends and family. Supported by their very own sous chef and maître de, the host and their guests will orchestrate an intimate dining experience where cooking together is celebrated and eating together is inspirational
Mikael Buck / IKEA
12/26 Ping Pong menu with a twist
Gatwick Airport has teamed up with London dim sum restaurant Ping Pong to create a limited edition menu with a distinctly British twist; including a Full English Bao and Beef Wellington Puff, to celebrate the launch of the airport’s new route to Hong Kong
13/26 Zizzi unveil the Ma’amgharita
Unique pizza art has been created by Zizzi in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. The pizza features the queen in an iconic pose illustrated with fresh and tasty Italian ingredients on a backdrop of the Union Jack
14/26 Blue potatoes make a comeback
Blue potatoes, once a staple part of British potato crops, are back on the menu thanks to a Cambridge scientist turned-organic farmer and Farmdrop, an online marketplace that lets people buy direct from local farms. Cambridge PhD graduate-turned farmer, Adrian Izzard has used traditional growing techniques at Wild Country Organics to produce the colourful spuds, packed with healthy cell-protecting anthocyanin, which had previously disappeared from UK plates when post-war farmers were pushed towards higher-yielding varieties
15/26 France plans to usurp Scotland as the home of the world's best whisky
France is planning to usurp Scotland’s reputation as the home of the world’s best whisky, fired by a growing national obsession with the drink. According to a study by retail consultants Bonial, the French drink more whisky than any other country – an average of 2.15 litres a year, compared to 1.8 litres in second-placed Uruguay and the US in third on 1.4 litres
Bloomberg via Getty Images
16/26 The price of an avocado is set to rise
Britain’s avocado lovers are facing a significant increase in the cost of their favourite salad food because the so-called superfood is becoming too popular. High demand from health-conscious consumers has led Peru to triple its avocado exports since 2010, with exports to the UK up 58% over the past year
17/26 Eating cereal may not be the healthiest way to start the day
The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so many of us do as we are told and grab a bowl of cereal before we head out the door. But an expert has warned that while many cereals boxes claim their contents are the perfect start to the day, many are packed full of sugar and carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Even some seemingly-health muesli cereals have a lot of added sugar in the form of honey, malt, molasses, dried fruit or “even fruit juice”
18/26 Crisps made with real ingredients
Michelin starred chef, Simon Rogan in action cooking a menu inspired by the provenance ingredients in the new Chef’s Signature range from Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips, the nation’s favourite premium crisp brand, has launched the new range of crisps with exciting new seasonings, made with the highest quality food ingredients rather than chemicals or artificial flavours
19/26 Japanese whisky crisis
Suntory’s chief blender Mr. Fukuyo San blends component whiskies to create Suntory Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, a blend of young and old single malts. Japan’s warm climate and varied seasons makes it perfect environment to age and blend whiskies, creating subtle, refined and complex expressions.The recent trend for Japanese whisky has put the spirit on the verge of a global shortage
20/26 Non-alcoholic cocktails are seriously chic
We are living through a new era of creative, non-alcoholic drinks that go way beyond a coke or sweet mocktail. The world is becoming more health conscious. There's the war on sugar, and teetotalism is on the rise, with more than one in five not drinking at all (especially young adults), according to The National Statistics for Adult Drinking Habits. This abstinence is even more pronounced in London, with almost one in three turning away from alcohol. An increasing number of mixologists are applying their talents to the creation of non-alcoholic drinks that taste as good as their boozy alternatives
21/26 'Heat map' shows which areas of Britain enjoy the spiciest curries
After Bradford was named the Curry Capital of Britain for the fifth year running, a map has been released showing which regions of Britain enjoy a spicy curry and which prefer the milder variants. According to the map developed by Hari Ghotra, Kent, Essex, West Yorkshire and Lancashire are the heat-handling kings of Britain, while Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all prefer milder curries. The data was collected by monitoring the location of social media posts that mentioned names of curries. These were then given a spice rating and were then collated to give each area a score out of 1000
22/26 Guinness to become vegan-friendly
Guinness is set to become vegan friendly for the first time in its 256-year history, as the company announced its plan to stop using fish bladders in its filters
23/26 Why the salmon on your plate might not actually be salmon
Salmon that ends up on the dinner table may not be salmon at all, a study has suggested. The problem of salmon mislabelling has become an increasing issue in the US in the winter months, according to American research published by Oceana. The findings show that 43 per cent of the salmon tested was mislabelled – the most common instance of this being when farmed Atlantic salmon was sold as wild salmon
24/26 How dangerous is a bacon sandwich
A recent WHO report warning that processed and red meats can cause cancer may have left you thinking a little harder about whether to pick up that bacon butty for breakfast or ditch a beef-filled Bolognese for dinner - but how worried should we be? The review of 800 studies for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) prompted global health experts to cast processed meats - including bacon, ham and sausages - into the ominous-sounding list of group 1 carcinogens, where they joined formaldehyde, gamma radiation and cigarettes. Eating just a 50g portion of processed meat – or two rashers of bacon - a day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent, the experts concluded
25/26 New Zealanders are behind a lot of the interesting food and drink stuff happening in the UK
Dark beers are more suited to cold months, so the thinking goes, but in one part of the world they're always popular. "Lots of breweries in New Zealand have got stouts and porters among their best sellers," says Stu McKinlay, one half of the duo behind Wellington brewing company Yeastie Boys. McKinlay recently swapped Wellington for west Kent in order to launch Yeastie Boys in the UK, and he's joined forces with four other breweries (8 Wired, Renaissance, Three Boys, Tuatara) as part of the New Zealand Craft Beer Collective, to promote his country's finest over here
26/26 Additives in popular chicken nuggets
Ingredients, a new book co-created by photographer Dwight Eschliman and food writer Steve Ettlinger distils 25 products, including popcorn, Red Bull and chicken soup, focusing on 75 of the most common food additives and revealing what each one looks like, where it comes from and why it is used. McDonald’s chicken nuggets were found to contain 40 different ingredients. These included dextrose, a sugar also used by shoe makers to make leather more pliable, and corn starch, used for thickening food as well as also being a substitute for petrol
In Germany, it is rude to cut potatoes with a knife, or pancakes, or dumplings; it looks as though you think they might be tough, and also these starchy foods are thought of as almost like bread. In Italy it is never “done” to cut spaghetti. Ever since the 16th century there has been a taboo against pointing a knife at our faces. It is rude, of course, to point at anybody with a knife or a fork, or even a spoon; it is also very bad form to hold knife and fork in the fists so that they stand upright. But pointing a knife at ourselves is viewed with special horror, as Norbert Elias has observed. I think that one reason for this is that we have learned only very recently not to use our knives for placing food in our mouths: we are still learning, and we therefore reinforce our decision by means of a taboo.
We think we hate seeing people placing themselves in even the slightest jeopardy, but actually we fervently hope they will not spoil the new rule and let us all down by taking to eating with their knives again. For the fact is that people have commonly eaten food impaled on the points of their knives, or carried it to their mouths balanced on blades; the fork is in this respect merely a variant of the knife. With the coming of forks, knife-points became far less useful than they had been; their potential danger soon began in consequence to seem positively barbaric. The first steps in the subduing of the dinner knife were taken when the two cutting edges of the dagger-like knife were reduced to one. The blunt side became an upper edge, which is not threatening to fingers when they are holding knives in the polite manner. According to Tallement des Réaux, Richelieu was so appalled by the sight of Chancellor Séguier picking his teeth with a knife, that he ordered all the knife-blades in his establishment to have their points ground down into innocuously rounded ends.
It later became illegal in France for cutlers to make pointed dinner knives or for innkeepers to lay them on their tables. Other countries soon followed suit. Pointed knives for all diners were later to return to the dining-room table, but as “steak” knives, which have a special image, linked deliberately with red meat and “getting down to business” when hungry. They are still quite rustic in connotation. Cheese, which can be a very hard substance indeed, has usually required a knife to cut it, and as long as knives were pointed, hard cheese was spiked and moved to one’s plate or bread slice, or passed on the knife-point to a neighbour. So obvious and natural was this action that the Victorians found it necessary, despite the acceptance of the rounded knife-blade, to invent a special cheese-knife. It has a blade, but more than one point, like a fork; the points for impaling the cheese, however, are turned to one side, thus ingeniously preserving the blunted tip of the knife.
People had repeatedly to be reminded by etiquette manuals in the late 19th century only to transport the cheese with this knife or any other, and not to eat it from the point: “When eating cheese small morsels should be placed with the knife on small morsels of bread, and the two conveyed to the mouth with the thumb and finger, the piece of bread being the morsel to hold. Cheese should not be eaten off the point of the knife.” The morsels of bread were to protect the fingers from touching smelly cheese. In France cheese must always be handled with a knife, exceptions being made only for Gruyère and Cheddar, which may be lifted, after cutting with a knife, by piercing on forks. French children are carefully taught never to serve themselves by cutting off the point of a triangle of cheese: in something like a Camembert or Roquefort this would be to take the delicious centre for yourself, under the noses of the furious other guests.
Triangles of cheese must be cut like cake in slices which include a substantial amount of edge, and taper to the middle. An interim period followed the introduction of rounded knives, as forks began to make their way in the world. For a while, people were occasionally exhorted to eat only with the back of the knife-blade, blunted as it now often was. (As late as 1845, American eaters with their knives were advised, when putting a blade into their mouths, to “let the edge be turned downward.” For some reason, during this operation upper lips stood in greater need of protection than lower lips did.) Special knives appeared with widened, not merely rounded, blade ends. The English in the 18th century, so Le Grand d’Aussy tells us, were given to using this knife like a sort of flat spoon, even for eating peas. It was an anonymous Englishman who expressed the frustration of many by imagining a heroic solution:
I eat my peas with honey—
I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
‘The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities and Meaning of the Table Manners’ by Margaret Visser. Penguin, £9.99Reuse content