the table is a reflection of a civilization, and the art of the table has evolved over the centuries, each era has left its mark, despite profound changes in the way of eating. Each novelty, first adopted by the royal and aristocratic tables, has gradually spread to be followed by the most humble. This is true of the long-standing use of plate, soup spoon, fork and drinking glass.
The habit of eating at the table only became widespread in the Middle Ages. Previously, the semi-reclining position, prized by Greeks and Romans, remained the rule. The tables of that time were temporary tables, made of planks on trestles, which one installed before the meal to dismount it immediately afterwards. From this was born the expression “to set the table”, that is to say to build it, and not as we hear it today, to arrange the cultery. a long falling tablecloth came to hide the unsightly trestles. It also served as a towel, because we ate mostly with the fingers. In front of each guest, no plate, but a trencher, large slice of stale bread on which food was available. Later, this slice was itself placed on an individual cutting board which also took the name of trencher. To serve in the bowls where the dishes are presented – especially meats – the pieces are pricked with the point of the knife. The renaissance sees the fixed table, as we know it today, as well as the fork, initially considered as an “oriental curiosity” which was used only to sting sticky foods such as candied fruit.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are marked by the generalization of the plate at the expense of the trencher, and the cultery consisting of a spoon, a fork and a knife. Now, you prick with the fork, and the blades of the table knives become round. The era is also conducive to new things, related to the emergence of new recipes and eating habits: the pot of oille (kind of meat stew), ancestor of the tureen, and the terrines. Coffeemakers, teapots and chocolates and their assorted cups. And, the height of refinement, the punch jars, which are drunk in stem glasses.
The XVIII century invents the dining room. Until then, one took one’s meals in the bedroom or in the antechamber. We speak, obviously aristocrats of this time: this distiction did not run in the humble cottages or in a single room lived men and animals. Around 1750, table cutlery found its definitive shape, and many models of goldsmiths designed at that time are still produced today.The cultery is enriched with the coffee spoon. The table welcomes many new service utensils: the ladle, then called “spoon pot”, salt spoons, mustard, stew, olives, powdered sugar … And the sauceboat, the mustard pot , the cruet and vinegar, the butter dish, the sugar bowl powder … The faience begins to conccurrance goldsmithery until then in use. This evolution announces the modern table as it will appear between the revolution of 1789 and the 1850s. The most significant upheaval will be the abandonment of “French service” in favor of “Russian” service. In the service “à la française” the dishes are installed on the table before the arrival of the guests, then changed by successive services. This required table plans as complex as precise, and timed ballets of well-honed waiters.
The “Russian-style” service simplifies everything: each dish is served individually, as the meal progresses. It was then a revolution in the Revolution and today is the type of service still commonly practiced at home, in the restaurant and even in the refectories and canteens.This change has another consequence: now, the glasses are placed on the table, in front of the guests. They are part of the decor, and the manufactures then invent the services of glasses: wine, Madeira, liquor, champagne … Between 1850 and the First World War, the rules become clearer: with the traditional cutlery comes to add the fish cutlery, and the arrangement of cutlery is finally fixed: the forks on the left, the knives and the spoons on the right, the Desserts cutlery in front, between glasses and plate.
Around 1900 the table had become of a frightening complexity, invaded, overloaded with accessories of questionable utility, true -gadgets “before the invention of the word: dishes and plates artichokes, salad, asparagus, shellfish, melonnière, menu holders, oyster spoons, sugar tongs, grapes bunches … To the point that Chatillon Plessis, the director of the gazette La salle à manger, “review of the table and the kitchen office”, yet very straddling the label, will rise vigorously against these excesses:”One of these days, someone will invent an instrument to hang the fork, or the horror of using his fingers will give pretext to the making of table gloves! These complications of services add only congestion of the material of the meals without any compensation.They disturb the guests materially and morally. The preoccupation it gives rise to the lack of care and well-being of conversations. Each squint on the side of his neighbor to see “how he does” and silently torture himself the doights by imitating him.
From 1920 the lifestyle is relaxed. it is customary to offer an aperitif at home. Immediately, the services of aperitif glasses appear. And concerning glass, a new material made its appearance in 1930. The culinary glass “Pyrex” deemed unbreakable.
Since then, things have changed little, if not an evolution towards more simplicity, which is particularly marked towards the return to the meals taken in the kitchen, which, in a way, brings us back to the origins.