In the old Pennsylvania Dutch days, cold winter weather was the time for butchering. At the end of a butchering day or sometimes the next day, the pork leavings were processed into scrapple.
Of scrapple, a 1905 essay in the New York Sun by Dr. David Rittenhouse Bingham rhapsodizes: “The Pennsylvania Dutch have many solid and useful qualities and one of the most engaging languages known to man; as the inventors of scrapple they have conferred upon Philadelphia and the rest of the world a priceless boon.” So taken is he with scrapple that he then breaks into verse:
“Oh flower of all the flavors, O Queen of all the savors
That e’er to happy nostrils deliciously have rolled!
My soul with rapture shivers when I see the perfect slivers
of kidney blent with livers, the scrapple hot or cold.”
As the name seems to suggest, scrapple is made from pork scraps, and cooking it was among the final events on the Dutchman’s butchering day. The pork scraps from butchering and most of the remaining pig parts such as the tongue, liver, bits of skin, meat scraped off the head, bones and whatever else are boiled in a large iron kettle for a good long time. The contents of the kettle (minus the bones) and the broth from the cooked meat, along with buckwheat flour and cornmeal for thickening are then boiled together and finally poured into rectangular pans to solidify into loaves, which are later sliced and fried as a breakfast dish.
The scrapple, as it is cut from the loaf, is an unappetizing gray color, but when fried, it turns a golden brown. Any number of toppings are slathered onto the fried scrapple slices: molasses, maple syrup, apple butter, cottage cheese, anything... But please, not ketchup.
The Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania recently held a Scrapple and Sausage Workshop. Participants gathered at the Heritage Center to work with experienced scrapple and sausage cookers, whose extended families still gather in the early winter to prepare these traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods.
Recipes were collected from family manuscript cookbooks as well as recorded interviews from Montgomery and Berks Counties. The following recipe from Bob and Addie Gehman of Coopersburg provides a good description of the steps in traditional scrapple making:
“In a large kettle or farmer’s boiler, over a good fire, cook pork bones, heart, liver and any other meat until the meat falls off the bones. Stir often. Dip meat out and onto a tray and let it cool until it can be picked off the bones. Sort meat from bones; discard bones and grind meat. Dip broth from kettle and strain to remove any bones. Measure the broth. Lower the fire. Combine:
• 1/2 part ground meat• 1/2 part broth
• 1/8 pound pepper to taste• 2-3 tablespoons salt
• Handful of coriander• Extra hog fat if pork is lean
• 4 pounds cornmeal added when the above is hot
Heat to boiling and cook 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Add six pounds of buckwheat flour gradually (sprinkle by hand slowly and stir so lumps do not form). Cook until boiling. Add whole wheat flour as needed to thicken. Entire contents will separate from sides of pot. Quickly scoop scrapple onto pans and let cool.”
Of course, there is a great variation in scrapple recipes. Some omit the liver. Some have more or less of various seasonings. Historian Alan Keyser notes that this is a “coriander belt” of Pennsylvania Dutch food. Sage is the seasoning of choice west of this area in Lancaster and York Counties.
As to the word itself, “scrapple” is obviously English. In fact, there is no Dutch word for scrapple. Perhaps the word evolved as the Dutchmen “stood market” in Philadelphia. The product is known far and wide as Philadelphia Scrapple.
The closest Dutch word to scrapple is “panhaas,” which is basically scrapple without the meat. The boiling pork stock is thickened with a mixture of buckwheat flour and cornmeal. Ladled into pans, it congeals when cool and is fried like scrapple.
The Historian is produced by the New Hanover Historical Society. Call Robert Wood at 610-326-4165 with comments.