Although ancient Romans used metal spikes to winkle out snails, the fork didn't appear with regularity until the 17th century.
In the gilded world of late 19th-century America, flatware sets could stretch to 30 types of forks, with various ones for shrimp, sardines, lobster, scallops, and oysters. "Americans became fork crazy. It played to social-status building," says Sarah Coffin, a curator at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City.
Gentle reader, should you encounter multiple forks at table, fear not. The rule is: Start with the one farthest to the left, and work in from there.
1. Oyster Fork: Size and shape determine a fork's use; this one's best for plucking oysters from their shell.
2. Cocktail Fork: Also for cold meat, this art deco Georg Jensen fork was designed in 1930.
3. Fish Fork: Fish forks and salad forks often look alike and can be used for either dish.
4. Shrimp Fork: This longer piece allows a diner to skewer shrimp from a chilled serving bowl.
5. Serving Fork: Splayed tines help serve cold meats or sliced accompaniments such as lemons or pickles.
6. Sardine Fork: The broad tines convey the long, flat fish fillets to the mouth intact.
7. Lobster Fork: The distinct profile of this fork is ideal for picking lobster meat out of the shell.
8. Octopus Fork: Gilded-age diners didn't eat much octopus, but seafood appetizers were popular.
Find this month's story from the National Geographic Future of Food series at natgeofood.com.