Ode to scrapple

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Poets in the Kitchen


Meadows brand scrapple in the Big Apple
Meadows brand scrapple in the Big Apple, 2007

I’ve probably written before about our family’s adventures with raising pigs when I was a kid. My parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement, which meant that we lived as far out in the country as possible—first in central Maine, then here on a mountain in the Appalachian part of Pennsylvania—and raised, hunted or gathered as much of our own food as we could. For three years in a row, we got a pair of adorable piglets from a local farmer in the spring and butchered the hogs in the fall. The logic was that we could convert a lot of kitchen scraps and surplus vegetables from our garden into meat, but the project was not without ecological cost. Though we gave each pair a large pasture and shifted the location every year, that part of the field has never recovered its fertility from the massive erosion it suffered when the growing hogs rooted everything up.

Pigs are very impressive creatures. Unlike sheep or chickens, there’s something going on when you look in their eyes. Their capacity to eat anything and everything is more than epic, it’s down-right mythic. They are role models of consumption, sacrificial gods of plenty. In their native Eurasian forests, wild hogs are essential nutrient recyclers and agents of natural disturbance.

We named each pair we raised: Pork and Beans the first year, then (in honor of the winning presidential ticket in 1976) Jimmy and Fritz, and finally Sears and Roebuck. Dad built a smokehouse, reusing the walls and roof from a decommissioned outhouse, and the first year, Mom went whole-hog, so to speak, and even made head cheese. Looking back, I think raising pigs was something we did more out of enthusiasm for the back-to-the-land lifestyle than anything else; we were never terribly fond of pork per se, and eventually discovered that it was way cheaper and easier to satisfy our need for free-range meat by shooting a few of the increasingly numerous white-tailed deer. The movable shelter Dad built for the pigs has long since rotted away, and the electric fence charger was moved up to the garage, where it was put to work around the garden, keeping deer out rather than pigs in. These days, we don’t even garden, getting most of our vegetables instead from the local Amish, who are new to the area since I was a kid.

scrapple slices on a cookie tray
baking scrapple to feed hungry bloggers

But one thing I retain from that era of my childhood is the sense of scrapple as a special treat. Mom was always looking for a cheap way to feed her three ravenous sons, and scrapple is nothing if not affordable. Both my parents were raised in New Jersey but have roots in eastern Pennsylvania, the heartland of Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. German) culture and cuisine, so they never learned to look down their noses at this meat product whose very name tends to make urban sophisticates recoil. I like to tell people it’s much healthier than a hot dog, being generally fresh and local and containing cornmeal and other grains, depending on the brand. I also like the way it blurs the line between breakfast and dinner—every diner should serve it for that reason alone. But in the diner where I used to work in State College, though scrapple was on the menu, no one knew how to cook it. We were instructed to whack off a slice and drop it in the deep fryer. Yuck! Here’s how we make it in my family.

Scrapple and Maple Syrup

Cut loaf of scrapple into half-inch slices. Either fry in an iron griddle or place on cookie trays in a medium oven—the latter approach is slower but uses less oil (especially if you have access to trans-fat-free shortening). Flip when the bottom begins to get crusty. Serve hot and drench in maple syrup.

Ode to Scrapple

lightly edited from the original posting (August 7, 2007)

Sing scrapple: buckwheat-
and cornmeal mush-stuffed
relative of head cheese,
the hog’s gray matter.
Plus every part
that couldn’t be cured
into ham or crammed
into sausage casings—
some good foot meat, perhaps,
a corkscrew piece of tail—
up to and including
the oleaginous grunt.
Always the butt of jokes
for the ignorant mass
of wiener-eaters who prefer
their pig scraps pink
and pre-fitted for the throat.
This is a square meal
the color of earth.
It’s what’s for supper
when you haven’t eaten
since breakfast and want
something you can
slap in the hot
fat of a griddle and fry
until it grows a thick
brown skin. Then
serve with Grade-A
maple syrup, go hog-
wild, wallow in the gray
and gritty mush.

half-eaten slice of scrapple on a plate
A meat product even vegetarians have a hard time resisting.

Photos from a 2007 gathering of literary bloggers in New York City by Rachel Rawlins (tournesol on Flickr).

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