Eating Meat Off the Bone

Food Culture is learned at an early age.

Is it because it is considered tastier meat or strictly not to waste a costly item  that Italian mammas are known for teaching their kids to eat the meat off  the bone?  Saving labor cost of filleting the meat as well as the waste involved, made purchases of less desirable cuts of meat on the bone a better value for budget minded immigrants, such as my parents.  I believe that was the real reason even if mom insisted meat is tastier near the bone.  There might be some merit to her comments being that I recall her usual large variety of bones to enrich a stock, stew, soup or sauce always had a majority of  big bones with delicate bone marrow.

In many homes the marrow may be unnoticed, thrown away due to its fatty gel like consistency but in our home it was a delicacy. One was considered to be the lucky one if able to suck it out of the bone carcass if not dissolved in the liquid of the braising pot. In our home the big stock pot was never absent from the stove.  With the ladle nearby mother could scoop up the always available stock to add richness and complexity to her most delicious dishes, being it sauce, stew, soup, risotto, pasta sauce or stir fry. Maybe that is one of the secrets of good home cooked meals, good bone marrow stock.

When I opened my first restaurant with my cousin in the late 70’s after feeding our guests ,our two families would sit for dinner at the long picture window facing the deserted parking lot of the center. It was a time we could indulge in gnawing at the big beef bones removed from mom’s delicious tomato sauce, leaving our faces painted with red sauce. The majority of the meat was removed and enjoyed by our guests in their meat sauce that evening.  This is something we practiced only with family members and never in public. One day giggling while licking at the great sauce bones I was so surprised to see, the security guard of the center with his face pressed against the window smiling at us. I had to invite him in to explain. He needed no explanation being that Pasquale was raised by his Italian parents who followed the same practice, Well from then on every night Pasquale around 10.00 would come by to join our family for dinner and to lick those tomato covered sauce bones.

I did not realize until recently how my daughter Michelle taught her children, years later, to clean the meat off the bone as Bo and his sister Laila proved to do with grandpa’s barbecued ribs as grandpa was taught in Argentina as a child. Nor did I know until dinner at my son’s house that our family tradition does live on in our family. Having cleaned my plate my grandson looked at me and said” grandma you can do better than that”. I had no idea what he referred to until my son explained that his son was right. Grandma did not do as well as 10 year old Dante.  Well maybe at age 80 I told Dante, grandma’s teeth may not be as strong.  Jason would not take this as an answer and they all called me a sore loser in a contest I did not know I had entered .There was no question; Dante cleaned the bone the best.

My good friend Janet was raised as I was in an Italian family. When together we enjoy those bones particularly the cartilage between the ribs and the big bones with the marrow that we use to call poor man’s foie gras. Few realize as I have ascertained that it is the most nutritious part of the bone structure. Apparently flavor and texture is added by the albumen and collagen in the bone that releases gelatin which adds substance. This is another difference between food cultures proving that what we learn to appreciate in our youth, especially before the age of five, can be enjoyed later in life. When social taboos come into play at a young age, one loses simple, delicious and healthy pleasures to enjoy through life.  How unfortunate that often in America we discard the best and most nutritious part of a meal due to social taboos learned in our youth.  Bone marrow and such things as organ meats can be more nutritious than muscle meat as well as being more economical.

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