Price, Stephen Gerike / June 2011
When I was growing up in South Jersey, there were three types of breakfast meat: bacon, pork roll, and scrapple. In our house, bacon was a luxury and pork roll—a salted, smoked, semi-dry sausage—was for sandwiches. But that crusty bite of pan-fried scrapple covered in egg yolk and ketchup, that’s the memory I have of weekend breakfasts in our house.
Scrapple is a uniquely American breakfast dish that derives from the German dish panhas or pon haus and adapted in colonial Pennsylvania by the Amish and Mennonite Pennsylvania Dutch (German-Americans). It’s essentially a pudding made from cooked pork trimmings, or “scraps,” left over from when families and communities butchered their hogs each fall. The leftovers include a natural proportion of lean meat to fat remaining from portioning and trimming fresh loins, chops, shoulders, and hams. Scrapple was originally made as a way to use everything that was left from hog butchering that wasn’t consumed fresh, salted, or smoked to preserve it through the winter. It’s traditionally made of pork trimmings, along with trotters, heart, and tongue. It can also be made from pig’s head, but that’s not traditional. Head cheese, known as souse to the Pennsylvania Dutch, is the preferred preparation made from the head.
Different versions of scrapple are made and eaten in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Maryland. But the essential preparation is the same: pork scraps are cooked slowly, along with onions, in seasoned water to create tender meat for grinding and a flavorful broth; the meat is removed from the broth and both are allowed to cool; the lean meat is removed from the skin and bones and is passed through a meat grinder, along with the onions; a portion of the broth is added back to the ground meat mixture, along with corn flour (finely ground cornmeal), salt, and pepper, and is cooked into a thick porridge. The scrapple is sometimes seasoned with sage, nutmeg, or marjoram. Many recipes also add flour or, more traditionally, buckwheat flour, in addition to the cornmeal. This is true of Philadelphia scrapple. Delaware Route 92, the 9.2-mile east-west highway known as Naamans Road, just south of the Pennsylvania border, serves as a dividing line between the Philadelphia style that uses yellow cornmeal and the Delaware-Baltimore version that favors white cornmeal. Don’t think that’s important? Good luck trying to get a Bal’morian to eat Philly-style scrapple.
All scrapples are poured into loaf pans and refrigerated until solid. The scrapple is removed from the mold and sliced into one-third or one-half inch thick slices, which are cooked slowly on a griddle over low heat until brown and crisped on each side, seven to 10 minutes per side, flipped once. Cooking scrapple in this traditional way is a must to purists. Many modern diners throw the slices into a deep fryer, but it’s just not right.
Many commercial scrapples are now made from both pork and beef. There are also poultry and vegetarian versions available as well as scrapples flavored with bacon, ham, and hot peppers. Local brands familiar to scrapple-eaters in the Mid-Atlantic are RAPA and Greensboro made by Ralph and Paul Adams of Bridgeville, Delaware (home of the annual Apple Scrapple Festival in October; www.applescrapple.com); Habbersett, also from Bridgeville; Hughes Delaware Maid from Felton, Delaware; Kirby & Holloway from Harrington, Delaware; and Hatfield from Hatfield, Pennsylvania. The nationally distributed Jones, produced in Delaware, reflects that small state’s preference by containing white cornmeal. Parks and Arnold’s are other national brands.
There are many farming communities in these areas that can still support the services of a local meat locker. Many of these local slaughter and processing facilities make their own brand of scrapple. The Haines Pork Shop in Mickleton, New Jersey (www.hainesporkshop.com/home.html), and Haas Family Butchers in Dover, Delaware, are two good examples.
Different types of scrapple exist in the United States east of the Mississippi. The Carolinas offer both liver mush and “pudding,” the main difference being the addition of liver to the former, with either one being offered in a hot version made with red pepper. “Pudding” is often made with rice, rather than cornmeal, and is similar to boudin. It’s made into loaves and also stuffed into hog casings. Goetta is breakfast meat of German heritage perfected in Covington, Kentucky, (Cincinnati area). Goetta is made from both pork and beef and is thickened with pin oats (rolled oats as opposed to steel-cut oats) rather than cornmeal or flour. Some versions use barley. It’s also formed into loaves, sliced, and fried.
Scrapple is traditionally eaten at breakfast, served with ketchup, maple syrup, molasses, apple butter, or applesauce. It’s offered as a breakfast meat choice along with bacon, sausage, or pork roll if you’re in New Jersey. But it’s easily adaptable for use on sandwiches or creatively used for dinner. “We did focus groups in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it was interesting to find out how many were doing the breakfast-at-dinner thing, eating scrapple at night with pancakes,” says Philip Jones, president of Ralph and Paul Adams, Inc. “And we found, too, it was being used in sandwiches with everything from mayonnaise to apricot jam.”
Scrapple is getting attention these days as part of the interest that chefs have for purchasing whole animals and doing their own butchering. When chefs buy a whole hog and have to decide how to make it profitable, it’s inevitable that the craft leads them back to traditional preparations and recipes that have been around for centuries. And as chefs tend to do, they begin to learn the method of making a dish before changing it to give it their own spin. Scrapple is showing up on independent restaurant menus as small plate and center of the plate dishes being made in-house from the traditional pork, and also beef, lamb, goat, rabbit, or even crabs and oysters.
I began my life as a cook in New Jersey back in the late 1970s working for the inventors of the bagel chip in a small town cheese shop. We served bagels for breakfast and began running the day-olds through the bread slicer and toasting them to use as something to sample cheese spreads on. I eventually graduated to line cook in a local continental restaurant owned by a meat purveyor. That kitchen was used for breaking down legs of veal for medallions, cutting bones for stock, and cleaning trimmings for cervelet, a Swiss/German/Alsatian sausage. Back then, boxed meats were scarce, and we needed all of the by-product for the menu that came along with sides and quarters of veal, lamb, and beef. Basic butchering was an everyday skill that cooks had to have.
I worked as a benchman at Pâtisserie Français with Jean Fiorentino, a French-Algerian madman, and learned to make merguez, a spicy lamb sausage in a narrow casing. We didn’t sell it; we ate it for breakfast on oven-hot baguettes with knobs of sweet butter and harissa. I learned to make forcemeats as a sous chef at the Treaty of Paris in the historic Maryland Inn in Annapolis, Maryland. I opened the Corinthian (now Breeze) as chef de cuisine, in the Loews Annapolis Hotel, a steakhouse with dry-aged prime beef in a crab cake town during the late 1980s. I eventually ended up at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, as executive chef when the very forward-thinking Smiley family, the folks who built the place in the 1860s, decided to invest in the heritage of this spectacular place and begin the long process of turning it into a world-class resort.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve continued to take every opportunity to learn the craft of butchering, sausage making, curing, and smoking meats from every true artisan I could. And my position in the pork industry—currently the director of foodservice marketing of the National Pork Board—has allowed me the opportunity to spend some quality time in the meat labs of Texas A&M, Iowa State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. I hope to share the enthusiasm I have for the craft with every chef I’m lucky enough to spend some time with in the kitchen. And since scrapple is a staple where I come from, I’d like to see it stick around for a while.
So here’s my recipe for traditional Eastern Maryland pork scrapple. I raise Tamworth and Gloucestershire Old Spot cross-breed pigs on my farm in Price, Maryland, and I make this scrapple in large batches when I butcher my pigs each winter.