My Granny Alice, my mum’s mum and my second namesake, loved bread and butter. She was also particular about how to unwrap and then re-wrap the foil or waxed paper, after all butter wrappers are not just for keeping butter safe, later they can be used for smearing the last bit of butter on a tin or pie plate. Alice would have tutted at the mess captured in the picture above. Actually I want to tut at the mess I made of the pack above. I even considered changing the picture, until I realized it was a good place to start because it is precisely this sort of banal, badly opened detail that can stir a thought or memory that then tumbles like a domino into more memories and suddenly bread and butter is so much more than just bread and butter.
After this picture was taken I called my Dad to ask something for my book and the conversation turned to bread and butter, of which my dad is very fond too. I told him the wrapper had made me think of Alice and he told me that when he was a boy there was a plate of buttered bread on the table at every meal. He also reminded me that on my Mum’s side of the family Alice’s sister May used to butter the end of the loaf before cutting the slice. As he spoke, a memory emerged of Auntie May, short and strong, in the kitchen in my Granny’s pub, buttering the end of a white loaf. This memory of May then rolled into one of uncle Colin in about 1980, so when he was 23, more or less the age he remains in our minds as he died not long after. In this memory Colin, still in his dressing gown his fringe hiding his eyes, strolls as if to music into the kitchen in search of strong tea and a bacon sandwich. There is Alice in the kitchen too, frying back bacon to be sandwiched between slices of bread, every now and then casting exasperated but adoring glances at her youngest son. While the bacon fries, Colin lights a cigarette and May chases him out of the kitchen with a pair of kitchen tongs, which we, his young nieces and nephew think hilarious. Colin always made us laugh. Now the memories are spreading like soft butter on bread, of Colin and the unbearably sad things to come, so I think about the bacon butties eaten in the kitchen of the Gardeners Arms pub and the taste of the bread that was put in the empty pan to soak up the bacon fat. I think about Colin putting another coin in the pub Juke box, Just take those old records off the shelf I sit and listen to ‘em by m’self. Fat memories.
Now in Rome I’m playing a game of association Bread and butter, bread and flora margarine, bread and bacon fat, bread and dripping. ‘Bread and olive oil‘ Vincenzo says with the knowing glint in his eye that drives me mad. ‘Yes yes, of course bread and olive oil is delicious but I am thinking about England. Now, where was I? Bread and bacon fat, bread and dripping from the sunday roast, bread and bone marrow’. Bone marrow, the creamy heart of the bone that has been roasted just long enough to melt the marrow into a soft, opaque cream to be squashed on toast.
I have hazy memories of sucking or poking bone marrow from the bones of a sunday Roast, but a clear one of the first time I ate bone marrow at a restaurant called St John in London. I was taken by my friend Jo, an architect, to the cavernous, whitewashed place on St John street that seemed to be full of other architects. The restaurant, I was told, served a kind of British cooking and lots of offal which was disconcerting then. We drank in the bar and then ordered from the bar menu chalked up on the blackboard. I would order from that menu countless times over following years and so my memories are a muddle of many visits repaid with brilliantly simple and delicious things to eat; Welsh rarebit, boiled eggs and celery salt, radishes, butter and salt, skate, chicory and anchovy, rabbit terrine, smoked eel with watercress and horseradish, crispy pigs tails and sorrel salad, soft roes on toast, cured beef with celeriac. A muddle except for that first dish on that first visit of Roast bone marrow with parsley salad.
Bone marrow isn’t, as I used to think, all fat – not that this presented me with a problem – it is also protein and a veritable collection of vitamins and good things. It is also delicious, quivering and rich and melts into the warm toast luxuriously. Like butter and olive oil, bone marrow on toast cries out for salt, ideally tiny shards of it, that catch the sides of your mouth. The pinch of parsley, caper and shallot salad: grassy, salty and sharp is a welcome addition contrasting with the marrow and bread. Simple, purposeful and delicious food. Food that I wouldn’t have remembered and then made were it not for a piece of bread and butter and a badly opened pack.
Roasted bone marrow on toast with parsley salad
adapted from Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail eating.
Roast six 3″pieces pieces of middle veal marrowbone on a baking tray in a hot oven until the marrow is soft and jelly -like but not melted away – this should take about 20 minutes. Meanwhile make a salad of some finely chopped flat-leaved parsley, a teaspoon of fine capers, 1 finely chopped shallot, lemon juice and olive oil.
Serve each person 3 bones, a pile of salad, a little pile of coarse salt and two pieces of sourdough toast. Using the other end of a teaspoon scoop the bone marrow onto the toast, crunch over a little salt, pinch over some salad and eat and repeat.