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A set of flatware typically contains five forks:
In addition, there are an array of specialized forks:
- Lobster Fork;
- Fruit Fork;
- Ice-Cream Fork;
- Pastry Fork;
- Strawberry Fork;
- Snail Fork; and
- Oyster Fork.
The shapes of the fork tines accommodate particular foods.
- Forks wrought with long tapered tines, such as a dinner fork, are made to spear pieces of food, such as steak.
- Forks with a wide left tine and an optional notch, such as a salad fork, fish fork, dessert fork, and pastry fork, provide extra leverage when cutting food that normally does not require a knife.
- Forks with curved tines, such as the oyster fork, are made to follow the shape of the shell.
In order of descending size, the measurements of the following forks are given in place size. Although flatware is made in continental and American lengths, the American size, also called place size, is the most popular dimension.
The dinner fork measures about 7 inches in length. It is used to eat the main course at all formal and informal meals. The larger continental-size dinner fork balances the profusion of tableware laid on a fully appointed formal table, and although the length is not necessary in formal dining, those who own the continental size use it for posh events. The American-size dinner fork, or place size, is approximately ½ inch shorter than continental size, a length that balances a table set to serve a few courses, namely, the informal table setting, from elegant to casual.
The fish fork is approximately 7¼ to 7¾ inches in length and is used in formal and informal dining. To provide leverage in separating fish from the body, the fish fork features an extrawide left tine, and an optional notch, grooved to fit over the bones.
The luncheon fork is approximately 6¾ inches long, a size in proportion with a luncheon plate, and found more often in older sets of flatware.
The lobster fork is approximately 6¾ to 8 inches long. It is made with one long narrow tine that ends with two hooks or with a long, narrow center tine and two hooked tines on either side; both shapes are used to spear lobster served in a shell. Because the lobster shell is steadied in the hand and the lobster fork is held in the other hand, the utensil is used only in informal dining. At a formal dinner or luncheon, only dry rolls, cheese, crackers, and sometimes fresh fruit are touched with the fingers.
The fruit fork is made with narrow tines and a long slender handle; it is approximately 6¼ inches in overall length. Although the fruit fork is used in formal and informal dining, Americans tend to eat cut fruit with fingers, and the fruit fork is used more often in Europe than in the United States.
The tines of salad forks are flatter and slightly broader than those of a dinner fork, and the utensil is approximately 6 inches long. To provide leverage when cutting thick veins of lettuce or broad vegetables served in salad, the salad fork is made with an extrawide left tine that is sometimes grooved. For additional strength, the second and third tines of the salad fork are occasionally connected by a rod. The salad fork is used in formal and informal dining. It is also used for appetizer courses other than seafood, such as pate.
The dessert fork is a specialized fork approximately 6 to 7 inches in length, that looks similar to a salad fork, only a little narrower. It is not made as part of a flatware set. The left tine is extrawide to provide leverage in cutting firm dessert, such as baklava. The dessert fork is used in formal and informal dining.
The icecream fork features a wide shallow bowl with three tines at the tip. The spoon part is used to scoop and eat soft ice cream, and the tines to cut, spear, and lift firm bites to the mouth. As two dessert utensils are provided in formal dining, namely a dessert.
The pastry fork evolved about 1880. It looks similar to a salad fork, but it is narrower and slightly shorter, approximately 5 to 5½ inches long. To provide leverage in cutting, the left tine is often notched. The pastry fork is used in informal dining, although it is not essential; it is not used in formal dining where two dessert utensils are presented.
The seafood fork, also known as a cocktail fork; is a small, narrow, three-pronged fork made with short tines and a long handle; it is approximately 4½ to 5½ inches in overall length. The purpose of a seafood fork is to spear seafood served in a compote or a shell, such as shrimp cocktail or coquille St. Jacques.
The seafood fork is used in formal and informal dining. At a multi-course formal dinner or luncheon, the seafood fork is the fourth fork laid on a fully appointed table. It is placed to the right of the oval soup spoon. Sometimes the tines of the seafood fork rest in the bowl of the soup spoon and the handle is angled to the right, a placement easy for the diner to grasp. At an informal meal, the seafood fork is used as needed.
The strawberry fork is made with three long narrow tines and is approximately 4¾ to 5¾ inches long. In the late nineteenth century cultivated strawberries provided a new and flavorful version of the fruit, previously only available as wild strawberries.The strawberry fork is used to pierce fresh strawberries and dip them into condiments, such as powdered sugar, brown sugar, whipped cream, and sour cream.
The snail fork is approximately 4½ inches in overall length, a small fork made with two long, pointed tines. In formal dining, snails are prepared without shells and served on a snail dish made with indentations to hold the buttery sauce and the meat is eaten with a snail fork. In informal dining, snails are usually served in shells. The diner steadies the shell with metal tongs or a napkin-covered hand, and extracts the meat with a snail fork held in the other hand.
The oyster fork is a small utensil made with three short wide curved tines, approximately 4 inches in overall length. The left tine is extrawide to assist in cutting the membrane that connects the oyster to the shell. The oyster fork is used only in informal dining. The shell is steadied with the fingers of one hand and the utensil is held in the other hand to extract the meat. Oyster forks are not used in formal dining.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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