Using a spoon to eat ice cream seems to be the most intuitive way to enjoy it—yet diners in the mid-19th century insisted on using peculiar forks to enjoy their cold, sweet treats.
The ice cream fork—a shallow-bowled, three-tined proto-spork—was a product of the cutlery overkill of the Victorian era. As table-setting evolved into a sort of competitive art, the requisite fork, knife, spoon, and napkin weren’t enough. They were accompanied by a bevy of highly specific utensils—including aspic spoons, snail forks, bonbon scoops, and, yes, ice cream forks.
It should be noted that humanity was slow to embrace the humble fork (initially associated with the devil’s pitchfork), much less elaborate on it. The first recorded owner of a table fork was an 11th-century Byzantine princess. When she died from a plague, one writer murmured that it was an apt punishment for using a fork. It was the Italians’ affinity for pasta, coupled with the table-setting boom of the 19th century, that made the fork and its many variations acceptable.
And while ice cream forks aren’t ubiquitous utensils at ice cream parlors, proper etiquette swears by them, particularly for eating sundaes. It all depends on how the ice cream is served. If placed in a bowl, one can use a spoon to scoop it up. But if ice cream is presented on a plate, get out that extra set of cutlery.