We all know the dainty fork perched on the side of relish trays during holiday meals or family get-togethers. But where did this pickle fork come from?
In the South, it doesn’t matter if there’s a holiday or not, we love our home-cooked meals. Anytime company comes, you should just go ahead and expect a kitchen full of dishes and the mouthwatering aromas of freshly made casseroles, pot roasts, warm pies, and honestly, anything edible you can think of.
Setting out snacks or hors d’oeuvres for guests to graze on before a meal, or even if the neighbors are just coming over for a quick chat, is a Southern staple. There will always be something to eat out on the table.
Relish trays with olives, pickles, okra, and an assortment of other veggies make for a good snack plate, and all of us Southern ladies know that there’s a special utensil for these trays. Just like a cheese plate has a cheese knife, relish trays need pickle forks.
I was curious to know when we started using this fine flatware, so I did a little research.
Did you know the pickle fork was invented in the mid-Victorian era? According to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, specialized dining utensils became indispensable during this time period because touching one’s food was a societal faux pas with few exceptions.
Pickle forks were initially designed for use with shallow pickle trays (like we use in relish trays today.)
In 1860, when trays were replaced by large cut-glass pickle jars in metal frames, a long handle was developed for the fork.
Well, you know how the old saying goes, “History repeats itself.” Because today, pickle forks with long handles and with short handles are a part of most silverware sets.
When the consumer market expanded and silver-plating techniques were on the rise, all sorts of forks were added to cutlery collections and dining service. Oyster forks, lobster forks, salad forks, terrapin forks, berry forks, lettuce forks, sardine forks, fish forks, pastry forks, and of course, pickle forks!
Fun fact: By the mid-1920s, the production of silverware had become so astounding that the number of pieces in any silverware pattern was limited to 55 by then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and the Sterling Silverware Manufacturers. Talk about being in a pickle!
The fork became a household staple by the early 20th-century, and designers started designing forks to match architecture in buildings. Italian forks in the ’30s, Bakelite forks in the ’40s, three tines in the ’50s, neon plastic forks in the ’80s, and now in the 2000s, sci-fi and quirky forks.
Now of course, with all these different types of forks comes etiquette confusion. So, just remember the next time you pull out your trusty pickle fork for your relish tray—it all started in 18th-century England.