I was seven years old when I first encountered a spork. My mom, brother and I piled into a car and drove a few towns over to reach the closest multi-screen movie theater to watch The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan version, not the original with Hayley Mills). We caught an earlier showing and then headed down the street to the Kentucky Fried Chicken-Taco Bell combo restaurant, where I chose the colonel over the chihuahua and, to accompany a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, I received a spork.
The novelty came encased in plastic, and its form was neither adequate for harvesting the final remains of potato substance from the corners of its styrofoam container nor for piercing and gripping greasy chicken. Still, I don’t recall feeling disappointed. Hours later, I awoke in the middle of the night and vomited.
My next spork memory is shallower in the archives; Age: 19; Location: student center, The University of Vermont. Walking through the complex, I passed a table where environmentally minded students sold sporks as an alternative to disposable cutlery. These weren’t anything like the flimsy impotence I first used at KFC; they were colorful, curvy and made of a harder, dishwasher-safe plastic. They also weren’t really sporks, at least not according to Merriam or Webster — instead of a single tine-equipped spoon-shaped end, this “spork” had implements on both ends: one was a spoon, the other was a fork with small, insubstantial serrations on one edge (a feeble attempt at adding a knife to the equation).
I paid five dollars for this spork, and I kept it in a small pocket of my backpack. I used this spork all the time; to eat yogurt, to eat soup, to eat mac and cheese. What do these foods have in common? You eat them with a spoon, and that’s what I did, because the fork end of this utensil was nearly as useless as the disposable version of my first encounter. (Plus, twirling the thing around 180 degrees to eat with the end I had been using as a handle always seemed unhygienic.) One day, as I attempted to stir a jar of organic peanut butter, this spork snapped in half.
After that utensil fail, I swore off sporks for good. I bought an ultralight spoon for backpacking, but would often end up swiping a piece of standard flatware from the kitchen drawer before taking off on a trip. That all changed earlier this year when Gerber released the Compleat, a multi-tool take on campsite cutlery.
Instead of combining fork and spoon into one ineffective jack-of-two-trades, Gerber kept them separate to perform at their individual best. The spoon is slightly angular, and perfect for probing the corners of pots and bowls; the fork is spork-reminiscent, but its longer tines keep it just forky enough for stabbing hunks of food.
Gerber didn’t stop there, though. The Compleat also comes with a small tool that works as a bottle opener, a can opener and a vegetable peeler. And then there’s the multi-use spatula that has a rubberized edge perfect for scraping clean pots, skillets and bowls (to get that last bit of pancake batter, for instance) and a serrated side that’s surprisingly sharp (but still not as good as a knife, oh well). At the other end of this spatula is where the Compleat all comes together, literally: all three of the other utensils nest neatly together to form one compact tool.
But invert either the fork or spoon to face the spatula, and you have one final item — a pair of tongs. Now, I’m likely more enthusiastic about cutlery innovations than most, but I genuinely believe that this small additional feature makes the Compleat a real winner. Tongs are precisely the type of thing that you never want to pack; they rarely come in small sizes, and their application is specific to cooking particular foods, so you can usually get away with leaving them behind. But when you do need them — for grabbing sausages off a grill, for serving sauteed vegetables — dammit do they come in handy.
On a recent weekend, I drove to New York’s Catskill Mountains to go camping. Knowing the hike from the parking lot to the campsite was a short one, I packed with comfort in mind (tents, two hammocks and a camp chair for everyone!). But when it came time to cook dinner (burritos), I realized that I hadn’t brought a single spoon, fork or cooking utensil of any kind. But I had the Compleat stashed in a backpack, and I used nearly every one of its functions to prepare the meal. It opened a can of refried beans, it stirred pork and veggies, it retrieved a roasted pepper from the coals of our campfire, and it doled out salsa. Our small group agreed, perhaps slightly under the influence of a bottle of whiskey, that they were among the best homemade burritos we’d ever had.