Marrow is not well understood these days, methinks. Perhaps marrow bones are not considered worth the effort in our (so-called) time-poor lives. Perhaps they lost favour when refrigeration gave a block of butter a longer lifetime. Then again, maybe it is part of the general lack of popularity of ‘offal’ in these (apparently) more squeamish times. Fear of ‘Mad Cow’ disease can at least be ruled out as a cause, as marrow bone popularity was in decline long before that nasty condition became front-page news.
Whatever the reason, it is a sad paradox that marrow has fallen so far it now is mostly to be found only on the menus at high-end restaurants – an exception being perhaps in the comfortable dish of osso bucco. Not so long ago, historically speaking, marrow was such a prized source of rich, fatty deliciousness that specially designed spoons were provided to enable it to be scooped directly out of the tunnel of the marrow bone itself. And even though we might love osso bucco, I bet that not many of us have in the kitchen drawer a set of marrow spoons to enhance the enjoyment of the dish.
Marrow was used as a source of fat in many recipes, as we will see tomorrow, but today I want to show you how it was also sent to table in the bone itself, as an elegant stand-alone dish wrapped in a napkin, with one of the special marrow spoons alongside. The end of the bone was often sealed during cooking with a flour and water paste, to prevent the melting, fatty marrow leaking out. The following instructions are from Modern Cookery, for Private Families (1860) by Eliza Acton.
TO BOIL MARROW BONES.
Let the large ends of the bones be sawed by the butcher, so that when they are dished they may stand upright; and if it can be done conveniently, let them be placed in the same manner in the vessel in which they are boiled. Put a bit of paste, made with flour and water, over the ends where the marrow is visible, and tie a cloth tightly over them; take the paste off before the bones are sent to table, and serve them, placed upright in a napkin, with slices of dry toasted bread apart. When not wanted for immediate use, they may be partially boiled, and set into a cool place, where they will remain good for many days.
Large marrow bones, 2 hours; moderate sized, 1½ hour. To keep: boil them 1½ hour, and from ½ to ¾ hour more when wanted for table.
BAKED MARROW BONES.
When the bones have been sawed to the length of a deep pie-dish, wash and wipe them dry, lay them into it, and cover them entirely with a good batter. Send them to a moderate oven for an hour or more, and serve them in the batter.