Friday, November 9, 2012

Scrapple....Just Don't Ask What's In It.

When it comes to scrapple, people fall into one of three camps: 

1. Never heard of it. (You clearly didn’t grow up anywhere near the Philadelphia/New Jersey/Deleware tri-state area.)
2. I’ve heard of it but would never eat it…do you have any idea what’s in that stuff?
3. Can’t get enough! 
And then there is the “syrup” vs. “ketchup” debate, and the great brand divide (Rapa vs. Habersett's) which creates factious battles resembling the Hatfields and the McCoys.

As for me, I fall into the "can't get enough" camp.  

But you’re probably reading this and wondering why you should care about any of this, or maybe you’re wondering “what the hell is scrapple?”

Scrapple is a delicious and slightly spicy loaf made with pork (and sometimes beef) and cornmeal. You slice it, fry it until it’s brown and crispy, and eat it with (depending on which camp you’re in) syrup or ketchup.  We usually ate it for breakfast but some fans like it in a sandwich. Not me. Real maple syrup, and only at breakfast!

If you live or grew up on the east coast, there’s a good chance you will have encountered scrapple at some point. You might even be a rabid fan of it, as I am. (Always Rapa, never Habersett’s...don't even go there.)

So what’s in it?  You really don’t want to know.  Let’s just say that those industrious American colonists, who are credited with its creation, don’t really like throwing away any parts of a pig.  But if it makes you feel any better, there’s probably no “part” in scrapple that isn’t found in most commercial hot dogs.  

Historians believe that scrapple is arguably the first pork food invented in America.  Wiki also tells us that the first recipes were created by Dutch colonists who settled near Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries.  That’s why scrapple is strongly associated with rural areas surrounding Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and the Delmarva Peninsula. In fact, it’s so popular on the Delmarva Peninsula that they hold an annual "Apple Scrapple Festival" in Bridgeville, Delaware, where Rapa scrapple is made. (And there is no other kind worth eating, you know.)

Now you’re wondering what it tastes like.  Sadly, the best comparison the folks at Wiki could come up with is that, “In composition, preparation, and taste, scrapple is similar to the white pudding popular in Ireland, Scotland, and parts of England and the spicier Hog's pudding of the West Country of England.”  That really clears it up for you, right?

Let’s go at this another way.  In texture, it is a bit like fried polenta or cornmeal mush.  Crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside. The flavor profile is a little spicy (black pepper spicy, mostly) and has about the amount of saltiness you would expect in a breakfast meat.

But the aroma when it’s cooking?   Positively mouth-watering. Like a cross between frying bacon and making Thanksgiving dinner. Ketchup is ok, I guess, but the sweetness of real maple syrup in contrast to the salt and spice is heaven on a breakfast plate.

Of course, part of my love of scrapple comes from the strong associations with my childhood in Philadelphia, and our summer vacations on Chincoteague Island, Virginia (just off the Delmarva Peninsula).  It was almost always on the breakfast table in some rented cottage or efficiency motel kitchen. We’d get up early and eat a big breakfast of eggs and scrapple, then go crabbing with chicken necks tied to lengths of twine to catch our dinner.

This past summer I received a text from my sister, who was on vacation. It said, “I just bought scrapple and chicken necks…I must be in Chincoteague.”  Tradition is a beautiful thing.

My husband and grown kids fondly remember the smell of scrapple frying in my late mother’s big, cozy kitchen, the morning sunlight slanting through the leaded glass windows, filtered by the smoke from her cast-iron griddle.  

A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, I fried up some scrapple. We hadn’t had it in a long time, since it’s quite difficult to find in the Midwest, and that just makes it even more special.

Shortly after those thick slices of deliciousness hit the surface of the skillet, I heard my son’s size 13 feet hit the floor in his room above our kitchen.

And as he hurried down the stairs in his robe, he said, “It smells like grandma’s house in here…are you making scrapple???”

Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.