on bread

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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 drippingBread 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 EnglandNow, 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.

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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.

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Roasted bone marrow on toast with parsley salad

adapted from Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail eating.

Serves 2.

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.

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49 Comments

Filed under Bone marrow, bone marrow and parsley salad, London, Uncategorized

49 responses to “on bread

  1. Mary Ann Kowalczyk

    Rachel just made these for myself…same roasted in oven seasoned with salt and pepper. only i smash baked garlic gloves with olive oil and cover the warm Italian bread with marrow and garlic. I love it. I’ll be seeing you in August maybe?

  2. That is an excellent cookbook. I met Fergus Henderson a couple of years ago after listening to him talk about food in a small wine bar in Melbourne with about 20 other people and not only was it one of the best food experiences ever (little canapes, small versions of dishes out of this book, were passed around, as did plenty of Fernet Branca, his favourite drink) but I decided Mr Henderson was one of the few geniuses in the food world who is genuinely absolutely worth listening to at any chance. He’s also just so incredibly funny. Although I’ve not been to St John (yet) and haven’t tasted marrow bone like this, this is the dish I associate with him the most. Must try to make this soon as I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to go to St John! Wonderful food memories too…

    • rachel

      FH would often be at the Bar at the end of the evening in the early days at StJ, we always seemed funny and charming, somebody you wanted to know. I love his food, his wife’s too. You will like this x

  3. Christy

    Lovely, as always. Your family memories have reminded me of my own, all the details different of course, but the tone so similar when thinking back to kitchens and nightgowns and meals shared with loved ones who aren’t here with me anymore. And perhaps most surprising is that parsley salad slipped in without fanfare, the perfect answer to my vague craving for salsa verde this week, which I haven’t quite motivated myself to make! Thank you for another lovely post.

    • rachel

      You are right, is is a sort of easy salsa verde, I am sure it would go with dozens of things, you could slip in an anchovy too. And thank you for the comment it is fitting that my memories that spread around bread and butter have now spread into your memories, Clumsily put sorry, but I think you understand what I mean xo

  4. Harriet B

    My Grandad used to butter the end of the bread before slicing it with the loaf sticking up end on, and slicing the thinnest slice possible, I think he thought it was a kind of sport to get it as thin as he could. Lovely post love XX

  5. We had exactly this dish at Prune, a lovely restaurant in NY presided over by Gabrielle Hamilton, author of the VERY lively tell-all chef memoir BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER. The dish was exactly as you describe it–quivery marrow, tart, tangy parsley salad, toast. And a red Burgundy to go with it–hey, it was Jody’s birthday. This is a great classic. I love the story of your aunt buttering the end of a loaf before slicing it–and my Anglophile-two-sabbaticals-in-Cambridge mother-in-law does the same thing with the wrappers. Ken

    • rachel

      I love Gabrielle Hamilton…her essay about wine and Sicily is the thing I read to re-set and remember the kind of food writing that thrills me. I would love to go to prune…..xox

  6. Oh yes. Butter-wrapping-paper as cake-tin-greaser. I’m shocked to realise I no longer do this. But bread and butter wasn’t really part of my heritage. In fact only when I went to France did bread start to become an important part of my diet. With butter, which the French considered weird. And now I’m back in England, bread has taken a back seat again. Not for long,maybe. I’ve just embarked on Day One of a sourdough starter mix…..

    • rachel

      I still use the butter wrapper to grease, even if it is badly torn…ohh good luck with the sourdough it is wonderful watching the rise and fall and rise of the paste…and then the bread. i still have some way to go but have made about 6 loaves now and they have been different and thrilling xo

  7. I can identify with Vincenzo here🙂 I have never been a bread and butter person. Mostly, I have been a bread-only person. But if I ask my dad, or people of his generation, bread and butter (and sugar) was a staple.
    I have been at St John a few times now but never got to try the bone marrow. I am not sure why, perhaps because it sounded like ordering smoked butter with bread and parsley, and other dishes felt more attractive. Now that you write about it, though, I really must go back and try it – you have a way with words and can truly bring a dish to life.

    • rachel

      Hi V, My sister likes bread, butter and sugar. I would love to talk to you one day about the roles of butter and olive oil in the north of Italy…….and lets put St J’s bone marrow on our list for August x

  8. This post is my new favorite. The memories made me cry a bit and sort of long for a childhood very different from my own. Can’t wait for the book to come out.

    And now to convince my husband to try marrow….

  9. Bread and butter … what could be better!

  10. Hilary

    This is such an evocative post, Rachel! I absolutely love bone marrow (and bread and butter, with or without bacon, but I don’t go there very often). mmmmm. xx

    • rachel

      Thanks H, hope you are both well, moving into Autumn crisply and cosily…how is the garden ? I could do with a bacon sandwich now…x

      • Hilary

        actually, it has been unseasonably warm for autumn, but cooling now. I have harvested the first puntarelle – I sliced it with a bean slicer and served it in the approved manner, it was delicious! Hope you are all well xh

  11. Christine

    Beautiful.

    Cannot. WAIT. for your book.🙂

  12. Amy

    Just so beautifully written.

  13. Eha

    Have you any idea of what one’s ‘feelings’ are coming upon this post in the middle of a working day? Being a medico, having studied nutrition for over a quarter of a decade, still doing so, but being passionately, yep, passionately in love with bone marrow since childhood > now🙂 !!!!! Is there an equivalent flavour in this world!!!!! Am sorry, but never mind about any bread and whatever I put atop !!!!!!!!!

    • rachel

      I love this comment obviously, I think marrow bone is one of the wonders of the gastronomic world…..and no there isn’t a flavor near. Hope you are well ? x

  14. laura

    Stirred memories – the bread and butter of life. Bacon butties and knowing glints and oh, that bone marrow! A long time ago, I learned to make ossobuco JUST so I could eat the marrow. This sounds like such a treat … am now on my way to my butcher’s. Thank you, for the recipe and the read – you are sooooooooooooo talented!

  15. SarahC

    Bread and dripping! We grew up on it – my Southern husband and his family can hardly bear to let the words cross their lips, never mind the actual food. “Dripping????” they cry, in squeamish horror. But yes, dripping, on my Mum’s home made bread, toasted, and a little salt sprinkled on the top, ideally with some of the jelly from the bottom of the dish … pure bliss.

    • rachel

      ha, that sounds like somebody I know, the horror at the jelly bits, the best bits. More for us I say, bliss indeed x

  16. Not going to share your post with my husband…LOL! if health is not an issue, he will eat bone marrow everyday, with bread and butter or a mid-rare ribeye. I have enjoyed your post. Soft wholemeal bread and butter, and I sometime will sprinkle a little cinnamon sugar, with coffee is my ultimate comfort food.

    • rachel

      Your husband sounds great and I love the idea of a little cinnamon sugar on soft bread and butter, to try xx

  17. Food carries so many memories with it, some of them so poignant. The way you write about food and the memories and stories connected to it is one of the things I love most about your blog🙂

  18. Mathew

    Felt the need to comment as I picked up a copy of ‘nose to tail’ today – coincidence. A nice read (both fergus and you). Thank you.

  19. I loved this when I saw it on IG and want it even more now that I read about it here. At the same time I am also full of memories of my grandmother who recently passed. About her love of butter, spread in thick slabs on bread. She always told us what a luxury it was to be able to do that because during the war she rarely had any missed it sorely.Thank you for a great meal and the walk down both our memory lanes.

    • rachel

      I am sorry to hear about your Grandmother but glad we can remember her gently here with bread and butter (I would like to be remembered with bread and butter.) As always thanks for reading and playing such a generous part in this page xx

  20. What a great memory. I love eating freshly baked bread with lots of butter and seasalt!

  21. Excellent words and reflection Rachel.
    Bones from the butcher below us are in the plans now.

  22. Hi Rach–I love how the simplest things can serve as memory triggers–and take you, your writing, your story to who knows where? Always a path of discovery. This time last year, we had lunch together at Da Cesare–me, just having submitted a manuscript and you, your proposal. Today, as you no doubt are finishing up your book, I got a finished copy of mine–it is beautiful, and a rather wondrous thing to hold in my hands. Momentum is building for its release next month, I can feel it. This time, next year, that wonder and excitement will be yours. I can’t wait! xN

  23. LickYourPlate

    This is such a beautiful post. I had a tear in my eye.

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