Silverware — also known as cutlery, flatware, dishware, household silver, kitchenware and tableware, amongst other monikers — is the traditional Western world name for the hand utensils used when serving and eating food. Historically made of silver, silverware’s overall popularity was replaced by stainless utensils in the 20th century, though the original name stuck.
Regardless of the material, utensils are often purchased in sets. Silverware has since been made with other materials such as electroplated nickel silver (EPNS) or plastic — called plastic ware — and continues to evolve. Cutlery gadgets also continue to be manufactured, though the time-honored silver flatware maintains its prestige as it is traditionally used during elegant functions and formal occasions.
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True silverware requires proper upkeep and maintenance. As it easily tarnishes, it must be carefully polished by hand and never washed in the dishwasher. Additionally, silver utensils should be stored after being gently rubbed with an anti-tarnish treatment. In addition to traditional eating and serving utensils, the term silverware is extended to goods such as tea sets, candlesticks, gravy boats, and platters.
In general, cutlery refers to eating utensils such as forks, spoons, and knives. Chopsticks are often included in the grouping, as well. Additionally, combination utensils including the knork, spork, spife, and sporf, among others, are becoming increasingly more familiar. These instruments combine two or more common utensils, such as the spoon and fork, to form a spork, creating one utensil that can easily be used to eat two separate dishes that would have required two separate utensils. Such utensils are considered functional when it comes to outings, such as camping, as well as novelty.
Silverware items also exist for very narrow, specific uses. Crab crackers, for instance, are used for the distinct function of cracking crab legs. Likewise, nutcrackers are used to crack nuts, while silver lobster picks may be used to extract small pieces of meat from seafood that comes in shells, such as lobster. Oyster and crab forks, grapefruit spoons, and fondue forks have also become popular. Such instruments may be true silverware — that is, made of silver — or they may be made from other materials.
Silverware comes in a variety of sizes, often indicative of difference uses. Proper table settings generally include two forks, for example. The salad fork is smaller than the meat fork. Typically, the order the utensils are placed in is the order in which they are used. From outside in, the diner uses the salad fork before the dinner fork, as salad is generally served before dinner in North America.