Spoons hold up a mirror to the surrounding culture precisely because they are universal. There are fork cultures and there are chopstick cultures, but all the peoples of the world use spoons.
Spoons -- along with their companions and rivals, chopsticks and forks -- are definitely a form of technology. Their functions include serving, measuring, and conveying food from plate to mouth, not to mention culinary spoons for stirring and scraping, skimming, lifting, and ladling. Every human society has spoons of one kind or another. In and of themselves, these utensils are mild-mannered -- certainly in comparison with the knife. Spoons are what we give babies -- whether ceremonial silver christening spoons or shallow plastic weaning spoons containing the first gummy mouthfuls of baby rice. Gripping a spoon in the fist is one of the earliest milestones in our development. Spoons are benign and domestic. Yet their construction and use has often reflected deep passions and fiercely held prejudices.
In 1660, the luxuriantly bewigged Charles II became king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, a restoration of the monarchy after the country's brief experiment with republican government in the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard. Eleven years earlier, in 1649, the king's father, Charles I, was executed, the culmination of the English Civil War. Now monarchy was back with a vengeance. Charles II's Restoration was accompanied by sweeping cultural changes, aimed at effacing all memory of the Puritan Roundheads. Theaters reopened. Handel composed his majestic Water Music. And, almost overnight, silver spoons took on an entirely new shape, the trifid (also known as trefids, trefoils, split-ends, and pieds-de-biche).
Because the Commonwealth lasted such a short time, Cromwellian spoons are rare. But those that have survived are, as you'd expect, plain and unadorned. The shape of these spoons -- which began to appear in England from the 1630s on -- is known as "Puritan." They have a simple, shallow egg-shaped bowl that gives way to a plain, flat stem. The Puritan spoon marked a departure from previous English silver spoons, which had bowls that were fig shaped (the technical term is ficulate), with chunky hexagonal stems. These earlier spoons had a bowl like a teardrop, widening toward the end that you put in your mouth, whereas the Puritan bowl narrowed slightly at the end, like most of our spoons now.