Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arcane Dining Oddities: The Mystery Trident Fork Revealed

Well, that was a lot of fun!  Thank you all for playing along and taking a stab at demystifying the dining utensil I featured in my prior post.  I enjoyed reading your guesses and was not at all surprised that some of you thought the fork would be used to help carve or serve meat.  It is certainly hefty enough and would be quite suited to lifting a slice or two of roast beef or ham to place upon one's plate during Sunday lunch.

Chronica Domus
Won't you help yourself to a slice or two of bread?
Photo: Chronica Domus

Well done to those of you who posited the fork had something to do with bread.  The trident-shaped utensil was indeed designed for the express purpose of delivering one's daily bread safely to one's plate without actually touching said bread in the process. In all honesty, I find this all a little too genteel for my liking and much prefer to pass the bread plate or basket to my guests so that they can help themselves with their very own fingers.  It is efficient and not at all fussy, don't you agree? However, I have found other uses for this beautiful arcane piece of cutlery so it remains a practical item when entertaining even to this day.  We pass the fork alongside a plate of  hot baked potatoes, or whenever we serve individual Yorkshire puddings at dinner, or popovers for brunch.  During the summer months, when watermelons are at their most flavorful, a bread fork is the perfect delivery system for helping oneself to large pieces of the refreshing fruit.

The bread fork was a popular item at formally set tables in the United Kingdon during the mid-nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth. Obviously, Bertie Wooster and his natty friends at the Drones Club managed quite well without.

One of the infamous bread roll tosses during a typical luncheon at the Drones Club
Nota bene: This particular author would love nothing more than to join in on the rollicking good fun being had by all and might soon attempt such antics at her own dining table under the right circumstances.

It was once considered quite impolite to touch most food items with bare hands, but bread was one of the few exception to this rule. As such, it really baffles the mind as to why these forks were even invented.  Ironically, polite society dictated that once a slice of bread or roll was safely deposited on a diner's plate with the use of the bread fork, it was perfectly acceptable to break it apart with fingers for consumption.

I believe my fork was made toward the end of the nineteenth century and was likely marketed to middle-class families due to the quality of the materials and design. I've seen similar bread forks constructed of lighter weight pressed metals that were electroplated in nickel silver with mother-of-pearl handles. I've also encountered handles of simulated ivory and also of stag antler, the latter of which was one of the dearer (sorry for the pun) examples available for purchase.

Now that we are all well versed in the use of this arcane dining oddity, I wonder how long it will be until you too run into one for sale at an antiques shop or flea market. Perhaps when you do, you'll consider taking it home and finding a new use for it which is, after all, part of the fun of owning these things.  At the very least, it will make for an interesting dinner conversation.


  1. Love it! As a slight germaphobe, I'm very much in favour of the bread fork. Plus, it's such a pretty one.

    1. Hello Jen,

      It sounds as though you've found a new item to add to your Christmas list this year, and a very useful one at that. Do let me know if you manage to track one down.

  2. I'm with you, just grab the bread with fingers! But then, I'm a Californian, and we have all kinds of rough behavior:). I love the idea of using it for watermelon.

    1. Oh, I wouldn't say it was all rough behavior. Mind you, I've been a very civilizing influence on my Californian husband ;-)

  3. Hello CD, For serving most kinds of bread, tongs seem a more practical tool, both for picking up and releasing. Still, it is fun occasionally to put obsolete implements back to their original use. You are lucky in California to have so much delicious bread with which to put that bread fork to work.

    1. Jim, you make a very good point with regards to tongs. No wonder the bread fork has disappeared from the landscape of the table.

      Yes, we are indeed fortunate to have such excellent bread here. The bread I used to photograph this post was purchased from a local bakery while still hot. It is sourdough - delish slathered in butter!

  4. That was fun. I can see why it was popular for people to want no one to touch the food, but since I'm not a germaphobe, and have even employed the 3-second rule when something hits the floor, I would opt to use the fork for sliced meat or watermelon. The thing about the trident fork is that it looks so sturdy and wouldn't miss its mark when you stab something you wanted to transport from platter to plate. :-)

    1. Hello Karen,

      You are right about the sturdiness of the bread fork's tines, at least the model I own. It was certainly designed to skewer its target with effect. Happy you joined in with the fun of this mystery object.

  5. What a beautiful fork and a great excuse to serve crostini or bruschetta. These archaic implements are as intriguing as they are beautiful. Some years ago a dear friend (preparing to move into assisted living) gave me a number of old silver serving implements she no longer used. Included in that collection were a bacon fork, tomato/cucumber server and marrow spoon. I have used the bacon and tomato servers for brunch. The marrow spoon remained a mystery until I saw a wall display in the pantry of a Newport, RI mansion. Our tour guide explained marrow was one of the many delicacies served during those multi-course Edwardian dinners.
    Bon appetit!
    KL Gaylin

    1. Hello KL Gaylin,

      So happy to read you too liked the fork and thought it handsome. I adore your idea of serving crostini or bruschetta - delish!

      I wouldn't know what a tomato/cucumber server looked like but I know all about marrow spoons (or scoops), not that I would use one myself mind you. I had an uncle with whom I strongly associate marrow eating, would you believe. He adored polishing off those bones and I always felt sorry for his big beautiful German Shepherd dog who longingly glanced his way in hopes of getting a morsel for himself.

      I would love to see that pantry display you made reference to. Sounds intriguing.

  6. I, too, have one of these tridents. It's very old and has a handle that looks like antler.

    Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find new marrow spoons? Impossible. I, myself enjoyed marrow bones at the Minetta Tavern in New York. Horribly indulgent...but loved every bite. ;-)

    Love your blog.

    1. Hello J.W.,

      Nice to hear that you are enjoying the blog and that you've recently indulged in marrow eating, something not many can lay claim to today. I would imagine that new marrow spoons would be a challenge to find so I would urge you to consider adding some antique ones to your dining room. I've seen Georgian examples for sale and marveled at their odd shape. They look so modern to my eye.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  7. I love collecting arcane silverware for our dining table. Just like my general knowledge, the more useless something is the more fascinating I find it.

    We were given a 12 place setting of King's Pattern cutlery as a wedding gift from my grandparents. We found the stirling silver set in an old antique shop and fell in love with it. Since then I have been adding to it, and anything in that pattern which is different, odd or quirky suddenly becomes a must have, as in "I don't know how I have managed to make it through life thus far without a silver drink muddler, bon bon scoop, sugar sifter or jam trowel"

    I say bring back the useless (or at least re-purpose it) so that it may grace our dining tables once more!

    1. Lord Cowell,

      You are a funny man! Useless general knowledge facts are a specialty of mine too and I'm certain if we were to meet one day dinner conversation, complete with arcane dining oddities, would be a smash.

      I know the Kings Pattern well as it was my parents' silver but I don't ever recall seeing a bonbon scoop or drinks muddler. Now I have something to seek out for future presents, thank you. I'm sure my mother would be delighted to discover the joys of these oddities.


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