A silver marrow scoop is an elegant solution to a problem most of us don’t have today. How can you get the tasty marrow out of meat bones without abandoning your table manners?
Upper class diners adopted new rules of etiquette during the 1600s. Forks appeared on posh tables to help people eat with a less hands-on approach to cooked food. But forks didn’t help take the savoury jelly out of the marrowbones. You can get an idea of how this was done once upon a time by reading a mid-17th century etiquette book. The author thought it best for people to stop handling and “mouthing” bones altogether, but he would allow you to use one hand for meat bones as long as there was no gnawing, sucking, slurping etc. And definitely no banging, cracking, or biting. Get the marrow out neatly and decently – with a knife.
Suck no bones…Take them not with two hands…Gnaw them not…Knock no bones upon thy bread, or trencher, to get out the marrow of them, but get out the marrow with a knife…To speake better…it is not fit to handle bones, and much lesse to mouth them.
Make not use of a knife to breake bones…also breake them not with thy teeth, or other thing, but let them alone.
(Youths [sic] behaviour, trans. from French by Francis Hawkins, 1646)
Before the end of the century marrow spoons had arrived, starting in the 1680s. These new implements for eating marrow had a rounded spoon at one end with a narrow scoop at the other. In 1710 one was described as “a marrow spoon with a scoop at the other end”.* Soon the spoon evolved into an elongated scoop, usually with a narrower version at the other end. Many more were made during the 18th century: an era when an impressive variety of new culinary paraphernalia was developed for the prosperous classes – from gravy warmers to caddy spoons.
I wish I could find a written description of someone taking marrow jelly out of a bone in the early days of the new scoops. Did no-one write about it at all? Later there are recipes for dainty dishes of prepared marrowbone that could be eaten quite easily; by this time the bones were being cut and served in a special way. Diners could still enjoy the traditional delicacy, but without handling the bones at all, not even excavating with a knife as a polite alternative to sucking. Probably the late 19th century marrow scoop in the last picture on this page was intended for this kind of dish. It doesn’t look suitable for fiddly excavation of bones cut from a big joint of meat, or from a whole animal roast on a spit.
Ingredients.—Bones, a small piece of common paste [pastry], a floured cloth. Mode.— Have the bones neatly sawed into convenient sizes, and cover the ends with a small piece of common crust, made with flour and water. Over this tie a floured cloth, and place them upright in a saucepan of boiling water, taking care there is sufficient to cover the bones. Boil the bones for 2 hours, remove the cloth and paste, and serve them upright on a napkin with dry toast. Many persons clear the marrow from the bones after they are cooked, spread it over a slice of toast, and add a seasoning of pepper; when served in this manner, it must be very expeditiously sent to table, as it so soon gets cold. … Marrow-bones may be baked after preparing them as in the preceding recipe; they should be laid in a deep dish, and baked for 2 hours.
(Isabella Beeton’s recipe from 1861)
The marrow scoop by George Smith III (picture left) comes from an important company of English spoon makers and silversmiths started by Thomas Chawner. They were active in London from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries.
Photographers credited in captions. Links to originals here: 5 marrow spoons – n.b. dates and details on original photo, cooked marrowbone, Gge Smith scoop by HomeThingsPast, Victorian marrow scoop. More picture info here
* From The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaffe in Joseph Steele’s Tatler: “a marrow spoon with a scoop at the other end”.
See also: a pewter marrow scoop