Lauren Newkirk Maynard is an editor and food writer in Buffalo.
As a native of Philadelphia and part of a family who enjoys many Pennsylvania German specialties, I’m biased about scrapple. I grew up eating thin slices of it, fried crisp in its own fat. Most mom-and-pop diners in southeast Pa., Jersey, Delaware and Maryland serve the stuff, although in heftier chunks than I prefer.
But yeah, it’s hard to love at first. After all, scrapple is essentially a rustic paté made from the less desirable scraps of a pig (the head, heart, liver and tongue being most common) after the fall slaughter to use up the unsold leftovers. An entire head’s worth of meat is often boiled off the bones. The results and other, er, parts are then minced, mixed with dry cornmeal and possibly buckwheat flour to make a “mush,” seasoned liberally with spices and herbs, and chilled out in a loaf pan. Mmmmm.
It may sound disgusting, but scrapple is good regional food with a long shelf life and roots in basic necessity. Western New York could easily learn to embrace it as it has so many homemade Italian, Polish and German sausages, or fried dough (first cousin to the funnel cake).
Don’t take my word for it. A festival has been created in its honor. (YouTube link.)
The Amish in Lancaster County, Pa., where my father grew up, were making it long before the Great Depression forced many people to fold thrift into their recipes. George Washington, who supposedly had a Pennsylvania Dutch cook and raised wild hogs, loved the stuff.
Preparation is key, since what turns a lot of people off is scrapple’s mushy consistency and wet cardboard appearance. This is easy to fix.
Be sure to slice it as thin as possible (an eighth-inch or less) and then fry the slices gingerly in a moderately hot, dry skillet. Don’t even touch them for several minutes until they release, especially if, like me, you’re chipping slices from a frozen 2-pound block. (I lug several back to Buffalo, pre-slice them, and then refreeze the loaves until needed. Which is often.)
Properly sizzled, scrapple turns a crispy golden brown with a slightly soft center and an outer shell that snaps like bacon. Serve with eggs and potatoes. Ketchup (or catsup) is an essential Pennsylvanian breakfast condiment. If you’ve got a sweet tooth like my sister and grandmother, drizzle on a little maple syrup.
Scrapple recipes vary widely among the homemade and commercial varieties. My mother is loyal to Habbersetts, a popular local brand that has a kick of black pepper.
If you can find some (I’ve seen a national brand at Tops), try frying up a few slices. Or, here’s an award-winning recipe from this year’s Scrapplefest, held annually in Philly:
Harry G. Ochs and Sons’ 1st Place Recipe, Scrapplefest 2007
1 pound scrapple
1 chopped red onion
1 chopped green pepper
oil for sautéing
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Red onion, sliced
Hamburger rolls for serving
Sauté onion and peppers in a skillet and let cool. Crumble scrapple in a mixing bowl and add the cooled onion, peppers, egg, Worcestershire sauce and breadcrumbs. Mix and shape into patties. Sauté in a preheated medium skillet for 4-5 minutes on each side, then place on a roll, and add romaine lettuce, red onion, sliced tomato and ketchup.