Monday, September 17, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Scrapple

     Many of the items I discuss in this blog column are foods or beverages that are new to me, and that I’ve tried only once or twice, in the past couple of years or so.  Today’s topic is unlike these, because I’ve been eating scrapple since I was a small child.
     Scrapple is, like the name suggests, composed largely of pork scraps.  These include the liver, heart, and head meat (cheek, jowls, tongue etc.).  The entire pig’s head is sometimes boiled down, bones and all, in fact.  This resulting meat mishmash is then mixed with cornmeal and wheat flour (sometimes buckwheat flour) and spiced, typically with thyme, sage, black pepper, and savory (this spice name is new to me, and seems rather arrogant).  When finished it resembles a block, and the preparation involves cutting off slices and frying them.  The condiments put on scrapple vary.  Some go with ketchup or mustard, and others go the sweeter route and use maple syrup, jelly, honey, or apple butter.  It’s known as a breakfast food, and can be served by itself, or mixed with eggs.
     Scrapple appears to be an American invention, and some claimants credit it as being the first pork dish invented in the U.S. (or more accurately, what would become the U.S.).  It was developed in the 17th or 18th century, in the area around Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania.  There are several European precursors, though, like white pudding (Ireland, Scotland, England), hog’s pudding (Western England), and panhas (Germany).  It’s strongly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch, a corruption of Pennsylvania Deutsch (or Germans), also known as the Amish and Mennonites.  As such, scrapple is popular in the Mid-Atlantic States (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland), especially in a circle radiating out from Philadelphia, and largely unknown elsewhere.  In college, I was surprised to learn that my friends from central NJ and New York City had never heard of it.
     But enough about the ingredients and history, let’s get to the taste.  And that is awesome, really top notch.  I prefer it to sausage and bacon, and this is high praise, as I really like these meats, too.  The spiciness is a great mix—not hot, really, but delicious (I mocked the name “savory” before, but I can’t deny the resulting savory-influenced great taste).  I like is so much that I don’t use any condiments.  Alas, my constant traveling for my job means that I’m often away from scrapple’s home, and my lack of cooking skills (and living in hotels with little to no cooking equipment) means I don’t get to have it very much.  Essentially it’s become a holiday treat for me—around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
     I realize, after reading the ingredients, that scrapple might come across as being repugnant—most of the people I talk to about it openly express disgust at the thought.  To which I argue that most of these same folks gobble down sausage, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets, which also might inspire revulsion if you learn about what’s in them, or how they’re made.  But, I hope omnivores, especially fans of breakfast meats, will consider giving it a fair trial—I think they will come away with a favorable impression.  Although trying it will be difficult, unless you live in/near the Mid Atlantic States, or other places with a significant Amish/Mennonite population.
     It’s rarely served in restaurants, but I do want to highlight one very good exception-- Helen’s Sausage House in Smyrna, Delaware.  I had a scrapple sub there, and it proved to be excellent.  Not surprisingly, Helen’s is also very good at serving its titular meat, too, for those not given to experimentation.  I enjoy their logo, too—it’s a pig wearing a chef’s hat, sitting in front of an open fire.  In fact, it’s basically sitting on the fire, so close that its belly and genitals are surely being singed, or cooked.  Oddly, the pig apparently couldn’t feel better about this, since it’s grinning maniacally.  The restaurant does have weird hours—Monday through Friday, 4 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday, 4 a.m. to noon.  Confused?  They do serve chiefly breakfast food, and they evidently cater largely to truckers. 

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