Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The grape scissors

Hilary and I had been dating about 1 year when I first got to really meet her parents. I had met them once or twice before, but just as Hilary's friend, not her GIRLfriend. So when's the best time to meet the in-laws? Christmas of course! At their house. Across the country (which meant no backup/escape plans were possible).

Hilary and I grew up in two very different worlds. I grew up on a farm with people who bashed small animals on the head and ate them for dinner. Hilary grew up in downtown Toronto with people who subscribed to Gourmet Magazine - for the recipes - not just because it looked nice on the coffee table. So to help make me feel more comfortable, Hilary decided to give me some tips and pointers on what to expect during the visit.

  1. Silver Silverware - Growing up we had 1 set of silverware and we used it every day. My mother did have a box of gold-plated silverware that she got as a wedding present, but we never used it. Hilary's family uses their fancy silverware for fancy meals. Like the one that I was going to share with them on Christmas. If that had been the only thing I probably wouldn't have been as nervous as I was. After a fork is just a fork right?

  2. Full place settings - Hilary's parents set the table with full place settings. Cloth napkins, desert forks and spoons, water glasses. The whole shebang. Have you ever seen Pretty Woman when Barney teaches Vivian about all the forks? Yeah, that was me too.

  3. Cocktails before dinner. This one I was pretty good with. I figured I would need a good belt to get through it. (Except people who have cocktails in fancy glasses seldom refer to them as a "good belt")

  4. Grape Scissors - Until that moment in time I had no idea such things existed. I honestly thought Hilary was pulling my leg, but no, it turns out her mother not only owns grape scissors, but uses them. The point of grape scissors is that you cut a small bunch of grapes from the bigger bunch and put them on your plate to eat. That way you aren't leaving an unsightly grape stem behind.
So far so good.  It was a bit intimidating but I figured I could get through it.  I wasn't completely backwards.  I had after all conquered sitting up straight, no putting my elbows on the table and chewing with my mouth closed.   I planned to watch what everyone else was doing so that I could just follow suite.  Seemed like a good plan till I was met with this at my place setting:

I had no freaking clue what it was for.  It looked vaguely like a lobster fork, but we weren't having lobster, we were having lamb.   Maybe it was some special desert thing. I thought I had seen pie, so I wasn't sure why we wouldn't just have forks. And besides I already had too many forks, one of them was bound to be for desert.  I decided to stick with my original plan to watch and follow. The lamb was served and we all had a very nice meal.  

I should probably tell you now that I have a fair number of food issues (you would too if your parents tried to feed you groundhog!) I was a vegetarian for a number of years but had given up on that by the time Hilary and I started going out.  I still wasn't a huge fan of meat, but I did enjoy it every now and then.  And yes surprisingly, I like lamb.  I can't think about it, but I like the taste. 

So the main course was winding down.  I finished and sat quietly waiting to see what happened next.  Then someone picked up this unknown piece of cutlery.  Hmmmm... their plate is empty, they just have the bone left from the lamb shank.  Maybe they are going to use it like a spoon to get the last bit of sauce off the plate?  Oh how I wish that had been it!  No, they proceeded to pick up the lamb bone and use their marrow spoon.

Marrow spoons were aptly named for their macabre purpose. It doesn't take much imagination to divine what these utensils were used for. During the reign of Queen Anne, the consumption of bone marrow (of mainly beef bones) was a delicacy enjoyed by everyone who could afford to have it (though it was almost assuredly, an acquired taste).

Some examples of these utensils date from the late 15th century. The long and narrow spoon section was used to dig out the marrow of larger bones, which was then mixed into soups or baked in ovens. This was a delicacy in early years when generally only the rich and influential could afford a steady source of actual meat. The utensil was generally made of silver to better fit in with the tableware sets of the day.

Also, due to the hard digging and scraping that was involved in getting the soft marrow out of the bone centers, softer metal (like tin) or even wooden spoons didn't last very long. The utensil sometimes had two spoon sections; one per end, with one being half the length of the other and narrower (for getting into smaller bone centers apparently). The hallmarks are usually found on the underside of the connector stem between the two spoon ends.
EWWWWWWW!   They were digging out bone marrow and eating it!  and enjoying it! As much as i wanted to be polite there was NO WAY I was going to eat that.  I had stopped eating Jell-o once I found out where it came from  (The gelatin you eat in Jell-O comes from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hooves, and connective tissues. To make gelatin, manufacturers grind up these various parts and pre-treat them with either a strong acid or a strong base to break down cellular structures and release proteins like collagen, from TLC in case you wanted to know too!)

Hilary, bless her heart, came to my rescue and let me know that it was not required of me to eat the marrow.  Hilary's mom was made aware of my food issues shortly after that and has since been very accommodating in frying me up a nice ham steak when they are eating things like tongue sandwiches, oysters, head cheese or blood pudding! (most of which Hilary doesn't eat either)   I have a great relationship with my MIL and I'm no longer intimidated by any of their habits.  Good thing too, we are going to visit them in June!
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