The story of the knife

Next in our se­ries in­ves­ti­gat­ing the his­tory of house­hold ob­jects, a look at the world’s old­est eat­ing iron

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents -

We take a look at the world’s old­est eat­ing iron

The knife has al­ways been a de­vice suited to drama, play­ing its part in var­i­ous tra­di­tions – from the cut­ting of the wed­ding cake with a jewel-en­crusted sword, to the Mex­i­can folk dance with ma­chetewield­ing per­form­ers and the Burns Night cus­tom of round­ing off the po­etry reading by stab­bing the hag­gis. Pri­mar­ily, though, it’s a practical tool: here are some high­lights of the knife’s evo­lu­tion.

4 MIL­LION– 2,000 BC FLINT SLICER, Bri­tain Stone Age dwellers carved a sharp-edged blade from flint for pre­par­ing meat that we recog­nise as the first ‘ kitchen knife’, even though the lump of rock looks more like a fos­sil to the mod­ern eye. The Bri­tish Mu­seum has ex­am­ples of over 100.

5TH –15TH CEN­TURY DAG­GER, Bri­tain Me­dieval men car­ried a small multi-pur­pose dag­ger. Gen­try were ex­pected to bring their own knife to din­ner: ‘A whet­stone was of­ten placed by the en­trance to the great hall for guests to sharpen their knives on be­fore a feast,’ says Suzanne Von Drachen­fels, au­thor of The Art of The Ta­ble, (Abe­books, £12.30).

16TH CEN­TURY RIT­UAL KNIFE, Ti­bet The cer­e­mo­nial role that knives play isn’t just for ef­fect: Ti­betan Bud­dhists turn to the won­der­fully curved iron blade on spe­cial­ly­made rit­ual knives to metaphor­i­cally ‘chop up’ neg­a­tive forces and cut through any ob­sta­cles on the path to spir­i­tu­al­ity.

EARLY 19TH CEN­TURY MEZZALUNA, Italy Beloved by TV chef Nigella Law­son, the two-han­dled mezzaluna (so-called for its cres­cent blade) was in­vented for minc­ing gar­lic, finely chop­ping herbs at speed or cub­ing veg­eta­bles for sof­fritto, the es­sen­tial Tus­can stew or soup base.

19TH CEN­TURY KNIFE REST, Bri­tain The Vic­to­ri­ans turned their taste for nov­elty decor to this con­trap­tion, used to keep table­cloths clean. High so­ci­ety rested knives on the tail of a sil­ver pea­cock or a dachs­hund’s back. More com­monly used were rests propped up by a pair of sil­ver jacks, glass orbs or ea­gles.

MID-19TH CEN­TURY FISH SLICE, Bri­tain Be­fore this uten­sil was in­vented, English no­bil­ity would cut and serve fish with two din­ner forks, be­cause they con­sid­ered it un­couth to use the knife for fish. The fish slice has a wide blade, adorned with a rich pat­tern, and a flick-shaped tip for sep­a­rat­ing the fish bone from the flesh.

20TH CEN­TURY SEBATIER BREAD KNIFE, France Cut­lers and cooks around the world have long con­sid­ered slicers stamped with the name of French brand Sebatier to be the best in the busi­ness. Orig­i­nally an Au­vergne-based man­u­fac­turer, it’s now an un­of­fi­cial sign of qual­ity used by sev­eral brands.

2017 SANTOKU KNIFE, Ja­pan Santoku is Ja­panese for ‘three virtues’, and it’s the triple-use qual­ity of the blade – slic­ing, dic­ing and minc­ing – that has put this scythe on chefs’ lust-lists. The flat grooves along the blade help pre­vent food from stick­ing to the knife. Try the ‘Sig­na­ture Santoku’ knife, £42, Robert Welch (rober­twelch.com).

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