Food Memories – What My Mother Ate

Marrow

Baltimore Blogger, Kathy, better known as The Minx, writes about food, dining, restaurants, and Top Chef at Minx Eats.  She is also a gifted story teller who kindly shared the following Food Memory.  She said, “Took me a while to think of a good recipe to send you. I realized that I really don’t have any family recipes – my grandmother never showed me how to cook, and my mother made stuff up as she went along. That’s the way I cook too. Instead, my piece is heavy on  memory and short on recipe – hope that’s ok.”  Absolutely, because really, it’s all about the memories.

What My Mother Ate

If my mother ate it, I ate it. No matter how weird it seemed, I trusted her taste – with the exception of two things: SPAM and Little Debbie Oatmeal Pies.

I grew up in a Polish-American household. My maternal grandparents emigrated from Russian-occupied Poland to the U.S. in the early 1900s. Here, as in their home land, their families were poor; they ate what they could get and passed the value of snout-to-tail eating on to their US-born children.

Sausages, ground-up oddments stuffed into intestines, are a big part of the Polish diet. In our house, every major holiday was celebrated with a grand meal of kapusta i kielbasy, or sauerkraut with fresh Polish sausage. The garlicky fresh kielbasa was delicious, but I especially loved the rare treat of kiszka, or blood sausage, that Grandma would tuck into the basket we took to Church for blessing on Easter Saturday. Kiszka has a livery flavor and granular texture (with the occasional bit of bone) that may not be appealing to most people, but my mother ate it, and so did I, from a young age.

Mom seemed proud that I wouldn’t hesitate to try anything if I saw her enjoying it first. She liked to tell a story about the first time I tried scrambled eggs. Until that point, my favorite way of eating eggs was either poached or over-easy, both methods resulting in a lovely dippable egg yolk. We called these “matsu eggs” because I couldn’t pronounce the Polish word for smear, which is “mazać.” One morning, when I was about two or three, Mom decided to switch things up and make scrambled eggs. In a perhaps not-so-rare fit of pique, I stalked off, refusing to touch them. Mom fixed herself a plate and began to eat, making “yum yum” noises but otherwise pretending to ignore me. Curiosity eventually got the cat and I was soon standing at her elbow, feigning nonchalance but secretly wanting a taste of whatever it was that made Mom so happy. After that taste, I was on her lap, finishing the rest of her scrambled eggs.

Most weekends, the smell of chicken soup, or rosół z kury, drifted from Grandma’s downstairs kitchen to our third-floor apartment. When I was very small, I remember her need to hand-pick her chicken, which she did at the “chicken choker” (I am not making that up) at the “Jewish Market,” a stretch of Lombard Street that housed a live poultry market as well as Attman’s, Jack’s, and various other purveyors of Jewish delicacies. I was never allowed to accompany her when she went on these trips with my Dad because: 1) the shock of seeing a chicken beheaded might be too much for me; 2) the area surrounding the market was known as a “bad neighborhood.”  But I was definitely allowed to eat as much of the resulting soup as I wanted, which due to the frequency of its preparation usually wasn’t a whole lot. I’m still not a big fan of chicken soup, but I do love chicken, especially the weird bits. Mom and I would each try to be the first person to find and eat the stiff ridge of cartilage from the breast bone (chrząstka). Of course that was also Grandma’s favorite part, so we had to share with her if we were eating in her kitchen. Another chicken bit we loved was something we called the ogonek (little tail). It was probably an internal organ, but I have never found this particular part in a fowl of any sort since childhood. It had a slightly livery flavor and a somewhat “bouncy” texture. As you can probably tell from our name for it, we liked to imagine it was, um, an external organ.

Grandma also made beef soup fairly regularly. Although I liked it better than I liked rosół, the only part that excited me was the szpik, or marrow. Mom would smear a blob of szpik on a slice of buttered rye bread from Levin’s bakery and I would be in heaven. Sometimes all of the marrow escaped from the bones into the soup, which was a huge disappointment at suppertime. Often there was only a single bone still hanging onto its fatty filling so we split it four ways; szpik was one treat my younger brother also enjoyed.

My love for bone marrow was my dark little secret until I was in my late 20s, when I was astonished to read that it had been one of Queen Victoria’s favorite snacks. Even the rich ate what the middle class probably fed to the dogs! Now fancy restaurants serve the stuff as if it were the cow’s answer to caviar. Landmarc, in Manhattan, serves bone marrow with bread and onion marmalade for the princely sum of $14. You can make it at home yourself far less expensively – a package of marrow bones costs about $2 in most supermarkets.

Roasted Bone Marrow

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place marrow bones, cut side up, in a roasting pan or an oven-safe skillet. Cook for 15 minutes or until the marrow starts to separate from the bone – if the marrow starts to leak out, you’ve cooked it too long!

Spread marrow on crusty bread, sprinkle with salt, and enjoy!

{printable recipe}