Upper class diners adopted new rules of etiquette during the 1600s. Forks appeared on posh tables to help people eat with a less hands-on approach to cooked food. But forks didn’t help take the savoury jelly out of the marrowbones.
You can get an idea of how this was done once upon a time by reading a mid-17th century etiquette book. The author thought it best for people to stop handling and “mouthing” bones altogether, but he would allow you to use one hand for meat bones as long as there was no gnawing, sucking, slurping etc. And definitely no banging, cracking, or biting. Get the marrow out neatly and decently – with a knife.
Before the end of the century marrow spoons had arrived, starting in the 1680s. These new implements for eating marrow had a rounded spoon at one end with a narrow scoop at the other. In 1710 one was described as “a marrow spoon with a scoop at the other end”.* Soon the spoon evolved into an elongated scoop, usually with a narrower version at the other end. Many more were made during the 18th century: an era when an impressive variety of new culinary paraphernalia was developed for the prosperous classes – from gravy warmers to caddy spoons.
There are recipes for dainty dishes of prepared marrowbone that could be eaten quite easily; by this time the bones were being cut and served in a special way. Diners could still enjoy the traditional delicacy, but without handling the bones at all, not even excavating with a knife as a polite alternative to sucking. Probably the late 19th century marrow scoop was intended for this kind of dish. It doesn’t look suitable for fiddly excavation of bones cut from a big joint of meat, or from a whole animal roast on a spit.
Suck no bones…Take them not with two hands…Gnaw them not…Knock no bones upon thy bread, or trencher, to get out the marrow of them, but get out the marrow with a knife…To speake better…it is not fit to handle bones, and much lesse to mouth them.
Make not use of a knife to breake bones…also breake them not with thy teeth, or other thing, but let them alone.
(trans. from French by Francis Hawkins, 1646)