A mother is teaching her daughter how to make pot roast.
“Before we put the roast into the pan,” says the mother, “we cut an inch or two off either end.”
“But why, mommy?” the daughter asks.
“Well,” admits the mother, “I don’t really know. That’s what your grandmother taught me.”
A few months later, the grandmother comes to town.
“Ma,” asks the mother, “when we cook pot roast, why do we cut the ends off the roast? Does it help the roast cook more quickly?”
“No,” the grandmother laughs. “When you were young, I only owned a small pan; I had to cut the ends off a roast to make it fit.”
I thought of that hackneyed story recently, when I stumbled across this odd bit of history: in 1630, Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony owned the only fork in colonial America. While the fork fad had quickly spread throughout Europe, it hadn’t yet hopped the pond stateside. So while Europeans began to master a fork-driven cutlery style – keeping the fork always in the left hand, and the knife in the right – the Americans, eating with knife and spoon, instead adopted the zig-zag – switching spoon from left hand (to steady the food while cutting) to right (to scoop up the food; impossible with a spoon when held upside-down in the left).
Just shy of four-hundred years later, my kitchen drawer is full of forks. Yet, all my life, I’d eaten in that same zig-zag, spoon-inspired style.
A month or so back, thinking of Governor Wintrop and 1600′s era utensil innovation, I switched to European style, fork held unchangingly in my left hand. And while, at first, the change felt exceedingly strange, soon I started to see the advantages. It made eating more elegant and efficient. And, if I’m ever stuck with a small pan, it would be way more effective when cutting the ends off a pot roast.