Of imprecise origins, the term spoon comes from the Latin "cochleare", and we can say that it is one of the oldest instruments that humanity has used both to eat and to serve, although at first it had very different shapes. disparate. Some experts believe that since the Paleolithic, men already used different types of utensils to be able to take food (especially pasty or liquid foods). Sometimes shovel-shaped and sometimes a little more concave.
Depending on the geographical area where these first communities were settled, these utensils could be of different materials. The communities settled by the sea used to use mollusk shells. Inland communities used barks, bones, and some other raw materials that were easier to come by. Each community used the material that was easier for them to get.
To find a vestige of man-made utensils, we have to go back to the Neolithic, according to experts, where communities settled in rural areas, who lived on livestock and agriculture, already made utensils that were used for cooking, for put liquids in the mouth or transfer them, etc.
Many of these societies had essential foods such as flours, taken in the form of porridge, soups or purees, as their basic diet. The design of these first utensils, although still quite rudimentary, due to the lack of tools of precision, they began to have a shape quite similar to the current one: a concave shovel and a handle; the most used materials were bone carvings, some types of stone and fired clay. They mainly used materials that were easy to work with or modify.
Many of the utensils, considered as spoons, did not have an express function for food, but were used for various medical, productive or ceremonial activities. Some three thousand years before Christ, in the rich Mesopotamia - Syria - Egypt axis, wonderful spoons were produced, with carved handles and other fancy decorations, achieving a great variety of models and shapes. Visiting many of the best museums in the world we can see many of these pieces, but we must make a special reference to the Louvre museum in Paris, where some of the best pieces of all time are found, with works widely recognized within the artistic world .
The richest, cast in noble metals, gold and silver, and sometimes decorated with precious stones, were used in the religious services of the temples, to apply cosmetics to the statues of the divinities or in the person of the divinized kings.
Converted into a sacred object, the spoon was sometimes part of the funeral trousseau of monarchs and high dignitaries. Above the tomb of Pharaoh Osarkon II was found a spoon whose cavity was held by a hand that was hooked to a metal tube. In any case, people usually took food with their hands or, in the case of liquids, taking the bowl to their mouths.
The use of the spoon in ancient cultures seems restricted to the feeding of the upper classes and to the transfer of liquids and food preparation. In classical Greece, spoons of gold, silver, bronze and bone were made for purposes similar to those already stated. Now, although the instrument was known, it was rarely used as a table setting due to the type of food they ate. The basis of the diet were dishes based mainly on wheat and barley flour, kneaded in cake form or prepared as porridge, fingers or bowls were used to bring them to the mouth.
Only from the XNUMXrd century BC, the use of the spoon began to prevail in the domestic sphere of the upper classes of the Hellenistic cities. The powerful elites of the Roman Empire already had complex dishes with multiple types of spoons, destined for very specific foods: the small and pointed spoon or cochlear (its name derives from the word cochleare, used to define the capacity measure of just one centiliter or cyathus room), which was used to empty and catch eggs, shellfish and snails; the slightly larger ligula used for soups and purees; and the trulla, a kind of saucepan, with a capacity of one deciliter, whose function was to transfer liquids.
In the Roman Empire of the East or Byzantine Empire, whose existence lasted until the end of the Middle Ages, the design of the spoon hardly evolved and the same spoon models continued to be used as in classical Rome. Although, as happened in the latter, the tables of people with little fortune had to settle for a wooden or clay bowl, from which the diners took the food with their hands or raised it to their lips to drink it. Spoons discovered until now, were not everyday objectsor, rather, they were luxurious objects, of carved silver with zoomorphic ornaments and inscriptions, suggesting that they were intended for the tables of the potentates of Constantinople. From the fourteenth century onwards, the spoon was introduced among the liturgical objects of the Byzantine church, used to offer wine to the faithful in communion.
The situation does not seem to be very different in the medieval Islamic world. The diet based on thick flour or semolina soups, more or less conditioned with minced meat and legumes, and a kind of broad bean porridge, peas and lentils, was taken in earthenware bowls with or without wooden spoons.
The latter became widely known in Al-Andalus, as well as in the Christian kingdoms of the north of the Iberian Peninsula, where the Latin term cochlear or corrupted forms of it was used to designate them (culiare in the XNUMXth century León or cugare and spoon in Castilla XI and XII). The word spoon will not appear in Castilian until the XV century, coexisting with the popular term spoon, of popular use, until well into the XVII.
The spoon is already present in the observations of different medieval European scholars on proper behavior at the tables of the nobility. In the Middle Ages, eating and drinking had much more social importance than today. During the 1250th century, enlightened clerics wrote Latin books on rules of behavior during meals. Furthermore, from XNUMX onwards, similar books began to appear in vernacular languages, destined for the aristocratic circles of chivalrous-courtly society.
The set of good manners to be observed by the gentleman was called in French courtoisie, in Italian cortezia, in English courtesy and in Spanish courtesy or courtesy. Most of the texts of the time show that it was still customary to take food from the common source with your fingers, so it was recommended to wash your hands before meals and not touch your ears, nose or eyes during meals. foods. From eating with your hands, comes the habit of washing your hands before eating, because you touched food with them.
The spoon was rarely used. With meats and sauces, the custom was for each one to take the piece of meat that they wanted from the source and dip it in the common sauce boat, and then take it with their fingers to their mouths.
So it refers to soups and purées, the XNUMXth century manuals of good customs already advise using the spoon to take them and not drinking them directly from the tureen or bowl, a custom that gradually was banished from the tables of the high court nobility, and spread to other social classes. On the other hand, the shapes of the spoon changed with time and fashions, as they do today in most modern cutlery, but never forgetting the function for which they were created.
On the tables of the rich people of the XNUMXth century, the spoons used to be made of gold, silver, glass, coral ... and they took round and fairly flat shapes, and sometimes too large, which forced people to open their mouths wide to use they.
But from the beginning of the XNUMXth century they acquired the oval shape that still characterizes them and facilitated their use, contributing to its diffusion. Gradually, the use of the spoon became part of the refined customs of the aristocracy of Gothic Europe.
Towards 1530, with the disappearance of chivalrous society and the breakdown of the unity of the Catholic Church, the medieval model of courtoisie began to be displaced by the Renaissance of civilité, a term used to designate a set of guidelines courtly-aristocratic behavior that, elaborated in the French court of the Valois, it would end up being adopted by the whole of the European aristocracy, also spreading in bourgeois circles and gradually spreading throughout all social classes.
Over time, it would become the symbol of a social formation, which encompassed the most diverse nationalities and in which a common language was spoken, first Italian and, later, French. Through both languages the unity of Europe is manifested, as far as social patterns are concerned, on a new social basis, as in the Middle Ages it had done through Latin.
The concept of civility spread among the European aristocracy from a work by Erasmus of Rotterdam, De civilitate morum puerilium, where he addresses how the children of the nobles should be educated and what their conduct in society should be. The author is especially concerned with table manners and considers it essential to use a common spoon to use the dishes on the plate itself. It is the beginning of many other manuals on urbanity and behavior that will be given throughout history.
Until the fifteenth century it was quite rare to have individual services for different meals, so diners used the same glass, knife and spoon. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the custom began to spread that everyone had their own set of cutlery and their corresponding napkin to use throughout the meal.
But it was not until the end of the XNUMXth century that the use of changing the spoon was generalized each time it had been used to use a source (that is why in protocol it is said that one should serve with the cutlery of the tray or source and not with those of one). This fact forced the host to have a large number of spoons, so it was finally decided to create a large model, whose sole mission was to serve the soup or the sauce of the source on the plates, avoiding the use of many cutlery different.
Since then, dipping the bread directly into the sauces or serving them on the plate with the soup spoon began to be perceived as a typical rustic behavior (and the same thing happens today, that it is not correct to dip bread in common saucers and platters, but you must serve one in your silver the amount you want).
Towards 1720 it was considered essential, at the tables of the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie, that each diner had his own plate, glass, napkin, spoon, knife and fork. To this minimum service, various instruments were added to use the sources. This gave a great boost to the use of cutlery by diners.
At the end of the XNUMXth century, on the eve of the outbreak of the French Revolution, the European upper classes, and especially the very refined French, had already reached the pattern of behavior at the table that, during the XNUMXth century, would end up being considered assumed in the whole of civilized society. Courtly customs had already become the custom of all bourgeois society. However, with the decline of the aristocracy, the rate of change and transformation of customs at the table would decrease, which in the upper echelons had been very fast between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. The tableware that we use today: plates, plates, knives, forks, spoons are really nothing more than variations on those of the eighteenth century.
Of course, during the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, there was a high level of differentiation of tableware, givingI give rise to very varied designs. On many occasions, as it is done today, not only the dishes are changed between service and service, but also the cutlery (both used and not). It is no longer enough to use the spoon, fork and knife instead of the hands, but, on the tables of the upper classes, for each type of food a different place setting is used (the same thing that happens today). On one side of the plate are soup spoons, fish and meat knives, and on the other side forks for appetizers, fish and meat; fork, spoon and knife are placed in front of the plate for desserts and sweets.
Special cutlery is created for exotic fruits and desserts, as well as special foods. Although all these utensils have different shapes and uses, in reality, they are simple variations of the same pattern (what we can find in the different cutlery of today). The bourgeoisie has not innovated anything, it has limited itself to diversifying the instruments and spreading their use among all social classes. The spoon, born as a tool of kitchenFor stirring and transferring, it has become popular to the point of becoming an essential element in any type of table.
Source: Based on an article in gastroteca.com.