The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A failed Florentine of Marrow -- Historical Food Fortnightly challenge #14

ingredients for a Florentine of Marrow.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The Challenge: #14 -- Fear Factor.
What foods have you always wanted to attempt, but were afraid to attempt to make - or afraid to eat? Choose a dish that is either tricky to create or nerve-wracking to eat, and get adventurous! It’s historical Fear Factor!

I could have re-done Calf's Foot Jelly from earlier in the year, but I had trouble finding fresh calves' feet.  I could have done Beef Tongue, but a few other people chose the same thing, and while I will probably try it myself later, I preferred to work with a different ingredient, to give the challenge postings more variety.  I also thought about doing stuffed beef heart, or kidneys, but had trouble finding fresh ones, even at the local Filipino grocery store.  Then I saw beef marrow bones at my regular grocery store, and that sealed the deal.  I've heard of marrow bones being a popular dish even into modern times, but never having had them before, I didn't know what the commotion was about.  I was a bit turned off by the thought of eating blood, but the bones didn't look very bloody when I bought them, and I was intrigued.  Instead of making a modern recipe like Osso Bucco, I looked through my historic recipes and saw that marrow could be substituted for suet and butter in boiled puddings, as well as used as the filling for fritters, tarts, and other sweet dishes, mixed with spices, dried fruit and candied citrus peel. 

The history of eating bone marrow goes back to prehistoric times.  Archaeologists are always finding bones and bone fragments in the kitchen refuse heaps that are dug up, and it seems that until the Medieval era, the bones were simply roasted or boiled for broth, and then broken to extract the marrow, which was then eaten as a dish by itself.  Removing the marrow and using it as an ingredient in other recipes became very common by the 16th century, with recipes for rissoles, pies, puddings, and tarts containing marrow in the filling, with sugar, spices, and dried fruit.  The 17th and 18th centuries seem to have been the heyday of marrow's popularity, with multiple recipes for marrow puddings, both boiled and baked, marrow tarts, pasties, fritters, and other sweet dishes.  By the 19th century, marrow seemed to be most popular as a dish of beef-bones, roasted or broiled, replaced by suet and butter in puddings and other desserts, although many Victorian cookbooks still include a recipe for marrow pudding. 

Recipe books, along with other publications, record the rapid increase in knowledge and innovation characteristic of the Enlightenment, with new dishes, and new names for old dishes, abundant.  The Florentine is one such dish; a variation on a regular custard tart, Florentines are baked puddings, in a puff pastry crust, or simply in a buttered dish with an edging of puff pastry, with a filling of eggs and cream or milk, with any combination of sugar, marrow, butter, suet, fruit, sweetmeats, spices or other flavorings, and bread crumbs.  Generally sweet, Florentines could also be savory, with vegetables, herbs, marrow or suet, and gobbets of meat as the filling.  I chose to re-create a recipe from 1674 because I had all the ingredients already; the book, English and French Cook, is on Google Books.

The Recipe: 
Florentine of Marrow.
                Take the Marrow of four Marrow-bones and cut them into squares like large Dice, add hereunto a grated Manchet, some sliced Dates, a quarter of a pound of Currans, some Cream, roasted Wardens, Pippins or Quinces sliced, and the yolks of four raw Eggs, season them with Cinamon, Ginger and Sugar, mingle these well together, and lay them in a Dish on a sheet of Paste and bake them.
-- from English and French Cook, 1674.

The Date/Year and Region:
England/France, 17th century.

How Did You Make It: 
I had a package of marrow bones from the supermarket, that contained about 8 one-inch thick slices of beef bones with the marrow inside.  I have no real idea how many inches of marrow would be contained in the "4 Marrow-bones" that the recipe called for, but from reading other recipes that called for multiple layers of marrow and other filling ingredients, I estimated that I had less than half the amount intended.  I decided to try a half recipe, and since puff paste is another recipe I have yet to master, and I happened to have a package of pre-made puff pastry in my freezer, I decided to focus on the filling for this challenge and leave making my own puff pastry for later.

A Florentine of Marrow -- minus the marrow!
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
For the manchet, I used part of a loaf of French bread that had dried out before I could eat it, and grated it myself.  I found that my cream had also gone bad, so I used whole milk instead, and two small fresh apples, sliced – don't know the variety, but they came from a neighbor's tree – instead of the "roasted Wardens, Pippins or Quinces sliced." Here is my redaction of the recipe:

6 to 8 marrow bone slices, 1 inch thick
1 cup white bread crumbs
5 sliced dates
a small handful of Zante currants
¾ cup whole milk
1 cup of sliced apple (over-ripe or soft)
2 whole eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsps. white sugar
1 sheet of puff pastry dough

Pre-heat your oven to 400 F. Grease a pie plate and line with puff pastry, trimming the dough where it hangs over the edge, and using the trimmings to cover the edges of the dish as needed.  You can make a decorative edge if you want.  Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork, and par-bake for 10 minutes or until set and the edges begin to puff.  Remove crust from oven. Lower oven heat to 375 F.

Beat the eggs and milk together until well blended, then combine with spices, sugar and bread crumbs.  Carefully remove the marrow from the bones on a separate cutting board, keeping the marrow in chunks as much as possible.  Combine with the dates, currants and apple slices, and scatter evenly over the par-baked crust.  Give the liquid mixture one last stir and pour it evenly over the fruit and marrow.  Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes or until set and puff pastry is browned. 

Unfortunately, my marrow proved to have gone bad when I opened the package, and I had to throw it out; I didn't want to waste the experience, however, and tried to make the recipe without the marrow.  I essentially made a half recipe, but since the ingredient amounts are almost entirely subjective, and I've never had a Florentine before, I'm not sure I even got close to what this recipe is supposed to be like, in terms of texture!  The bread crumbs soaked up all the liquid before the filling was baked, so it never really set, in terms of not leaving residue on the knife I used to test its done-ness. 
Time to Complete:
45 minutes to an hour.

Total Cost:
The bones cost me $8, and everything else was in my pantry, but it would have cost several more dollars if I'd had to buy everything separately, with the box of currants and the box of dates at least $4 each, eggs at $2 for a half-dozen, milk at $2 for a quart, and the sugar and spices a few dollars each. 

How Successful Was It?:
Well, considering my main ingredient – the one that made it a Fear Factor recipe – was unusable, I can't consider this a success!  I do plan to re-do it, and adjust the amounts of filling ingredients, especially the liquids, to get more of a custard consistency that will set, rather than a bread-pudding texture.  However, the resulting dish was tasty, with the fruit (I added candied orange peel to the mix to take some of the place of the marrow), sweet and fruity, and soft.  It was basically a bread pudding filling inside a puff pastry crust, and I like both bread pudding and puff pastry, so I liked the end product!

How Accurate Is It?: 
Maybe 50%?  See above. 


"Marrow bones" article on the Food Timeline site 


Bernideen said...

This has been an impressive series you have done and I sure appreciate it!

Steph said...

Oh, you brave soul! I recently heard about a family that ate a dish from every country in the world - cool! Here's to food adventurers!

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Thanks, Bernideen and Steph! I've enjoyed the research and the chance to use some of the more obscure ingredients from my pantry (and add others, like the marrow bones)!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)