Marrow from bones has been consumed since antiquity and has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, the difference from olden times being that the butcher now usually slices the bones in half ridding us of the task of cracking them open.
Eating marrow rose to such heights in the 17th and 18th centuries that silver marrow spoons or scoops were sold with which to eat it.
In addition to eating the cooked marrow on toast, the bones and marrow were utilized in soup stock to add consistence though they really add little to nothing to the flavor. Numerous 19th century cookery books point out that the bones can be prepared and after the marrow has been removed and consumed at the table, the bones are still fit to put into the soup pot afterward.
“The[buffalo] marrow-bones are also highly esteemed, especially when roasted, and are often used as a substitute for butter, as the marrow-bones of all animals are filled with a short, buttery fat.” – De Voe.
An article from the 1990’s claimed frontiersmen referred to prepared marrow as prairie butter. That author gave no source or documentation for the name prairie butter used in that context, yet other modern writers picked up the name and subsequently used the term in their own writing, still without any documentation. A more accurate term is marrow-fat.
This writer made a diligent search and could find no period source with which to document the name prairie butter although numerous sources do mention eating the marrow and instructing how to prepare it. There is no doubt it was commonly eaten but the name prairie butter is questionable. This author does encourage anyone who can document the term to do so.
In 1880, William Shepherd’s method of making “prairie butter” was to add flour and water to grease remaining in the pan after meat was fried and basically making gravy. There was no marrow in his dish. Other accounts of prairie butter had nothing at all to do with marrow and were simply butter from milk that had been churned on the prairie.
Marrow was commonly taken from beef, sheep, and oxen, but Lewis and Clark noted supping and breakfasting on elk marrow bones at least twice and outdoorsmen wrote that they ate marrow bones from buffalo. Richard Dodge claimed, however, that the marrow in the forelegs of buffalo was so pithy that when greenhorns roasted the bones they cracked them open to find nothing inside.
Indians knew how to roast the bones from the buffalo’s hind legs to get at the tasty marrow inside. “The bones of the hind legs are thrown upon the glowing coals, or hidden under the hot embers, then cracked between two stones, and the rich, delicious marrow sucked in quantities sufficient to ruin a white stomach forever.”
“Marrow-fat is collected by the Indians from the buffalo bones which they break to pieces, yielding a prodigious quantity of marrow, which is boiled out and put into buffalo bladders which have been distended; and after it cools, becomes quite hard like tallow, and has the appearance and very nearly the flavor, of the richest yellow butter. At a feast, chunks of this marrow-fat are cut off and placed in a tray or bowl, with the pemmican, and eaten together; which we civilized folks in these regions consider a very good substitute for (and indeed we generally so denominate it) ‘bread and butter’. In this dish laid a spoon made of the buffalo’s horn, which was black as jet, and beautifully polished…”. – Catlin.
Marrow could be heated, clarified, and stored away in small jars or crocks for future use in cooking. It was used as a substitute for butter during the months when fresh butter was difficult to obtain. Toasts were fried in marrow until golden brown or dipped in the marrow and baked in a quick oven.
MARROW BONES. Mrs. Rundell’s Practical Cookery Book. 1898. London. If the Marrow Bones are very long they must be sawn in half. Cover the end of each bone with a stiff paste of flour and water, using plenty of flour. This paste is to prevent the Marrow from escaping from the bone whilst being cooked. Tie a cloth over each bone, and put the bones in a roomy saucepan filled with boiling salted water. Let the Marrow Bones boil for three hours. Take them out of the saucepan, remove the cloth, and all the paste, and pin a clean napkin round each bone or half bone. Send the Marrow Bones up on a hot dish, and send up dry toast in a toast rack. See that a proper Marrow Spoon is provided to help the Marrow. The Marrow Bones should be served upright.
MARROW-BONES. Mrs. Beeton’s Dictionary of Every-day Cookery. A note at the end of instructions for boiling the bones reads, “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.”
MARROW DUMPLINGS TO SERVE WITH ROAST MEAT, IN SOUP, WITH SALAD, &C. Same.
1 oz. of beef marrow, 1 oz. of butter, 2 eggs, 2 penny rolls, 1 teaspoonful of minced onion, 1 teaspoonful of minced parsley, salt and grated nutmeg to taste. Beat the marrow and butter together to a cream; well whisk the eggs, and add these to the other ingredients. When they are well stirred, put in the rolls, which should previously be well soaked in boiling milk, strained, and beaten up with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients, omitting the minced onion where the flavor is very much disliked, and form the mixture into small round dumplings. Drop these into boiling broth, and let them simmer for about 20 minutes or ½ hour. They may be served in soup, with roast meat, or with salad, as in Germany, where they are more frequently sent to table than in this country. They are very good.
DEVILLED MARROW-BONES. “The International Cook B ook”. Filippini, Alexander. 1914. Procure six fresh beef marrow-bones of about three and a half inches long, arrange upright on a block and split in two with a cleaver (or have your butcher split them for you), leaving all the marrow on half of each bone only. Lay the six with marrow in a tin, marrow side up, divide a teaspoon salt evenly and carefully spread a devilled butter…over marrow, dredge two tablespoons of fresh bread crumbs evenly over the six bones and set in oven for twenty-two minutes. Remove, dress on a dish with a napkin and serve with twelve very thin slices freshly prepared toast separately.
DEVILLED BUTTER. (For the previous receipt). Same source. Half an ounce good butter, two saltspoons ground English mustard, one teaspoon good white wine vinegar, one teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, one saltspoon salt, half a saltspoon cayenne pepper and one egg yolk. Place all these articles in a bowl, thoroughly mix well together with a spoon and use as required.
CLARIFIED MARROW FOR KEEPING. “Modern Cookery, for Private Families”. Acton, Eliza. 1868. Take the marrow from the bones while it is as fresh as possible; cut it small, put it into a very clean jar, and melt it with a gentle heat, either in a pan of water placed over the fire, or at the mouth of a cool oven; strain it through a muslin, let it settle for a minute or two, and pour it, clear of sediment, into small jars. Tie skins, or double folds of thick paper, over them as soon as the marrow is cold and store it in a cool place. It will remain good for months.”
MARROW PASTIES [pies]. “The Household Encyclopedia”. 1859. Shred some apples with some marrow, add a little sugar to them, make them up in puff paste, and fry the pasties in clarified butter. When fried strew some sugar over them and serve.”
SAVOURY BALLS [to serve with soup]. Smith, Eliza. “The Complete Housewife”. Take the flesh of fowl, beef suet and marrow, the same quantity; six or eight oysters, lean bacon, sweet-herbs and savoury spices; pound it, and make it into little balls.
WHITE POT. “Domestic Economy”. 1827. Slice some nice bread, lay it in the bottom of a dish, and cover it over with marrow; season a quart of cream or new milk with nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and sugar; boil and strain it; beat six yolks, and put them to the cream, and pour it over the bread. Bake in a moderate oven, and sift sugar over it, or rasped almonds, citron, orange-peel and sugar.
“Journals of Lewis and Clark”.
“Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine”. March 1843.
Dodge, Richard. “Our Wild Indians”. 1882.
De Voe, Thomas Farrington. “The Market Assistant”. 1867.
Catlin, George. “Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians”. 1841 and 1857.