Scrapple: a cornmeal mush infused with ground-up pork offal. It is an indelicate dish, one of those dishes that when you describe it to someone they will automatically say "Eww." It's the kind of dish that came from necessity, from tougher times when meat was far more of a luxury than it is now. It came from a time when perhaps people had a greater respect for the sacrifice of the animal that would feed them, and that respect was demonstrated by making sure that nothing of the animal was wasted. It fits into the same category of food as czarnina, or as they say in English, duck's blood soup. If you're going to pay top dollar for a duck, when you kill it and drain the blood, you're not just going to throw it away, are you? Of course not, at least not in a Polish household. My father used to love the blood soup, although I have to admit as a child I really couldn't stand it. Probably because it uses vinegar to keep the blood from coagulating, which to me made it a bit too bitter. I would eat the potato dumplings that came with it, however. I've not been able to revisit the dish now that I am an adult; I wonder if my palate has changed enough to appreciate the czarnina.
Scrapple was not a childhood food. In fact, I never heard of it while growing up in Pittsburgh, but as happens to so many of us, I got married, and my bride was a beautiful young woman from a more rural area of Central Pennsylvania. The entire population of the town she grew up in was not significantly more than the number of students in the Catholic grade school I attended. The neighborhoods I grew up in were largely influenced by Slavic immigrants (Western Slavs if you want to get technical), while my wife's town was influenced more by the Germanic immigrants with a heavy dose of "Pennsylvania Dutch." It was my father-in-law who introduced me to scrapple, a food of which he was fond. He had grown up in Central Pennsylvania. His wife, however, was Mexican and had grown up mostly in Bethlehem and lived and worked in Washington, D.C. when they met, and she squinted a lot at scrapple and, like Bartleby the Scrivener, preferred not. Neither of his daughters liked it either, choosing not to eat a food made from parts of the pig body that they would have otherwise been forbidden to touch.
I nevertheless liked it, and it was an oddly bonding experience for me and my father-in-law.
Fast forward twenty years, and my wife and I move off to central California, and while we end up in an area that has a significant presence of Dutchmen, they must have been from the part of Dutchland that did not like scrapple. It was a very, very rare thing to see it in the stores here, and when it was available, it was frozen and sold in the Questionable Foods section next to the menudo meat.
Fast forward another twenty years, and I am now retired and have watched way too many cooking shows on the television, but I have discovered that we are a clever country, and there are chefs out there that, rather than dismissing lots of the old foods born of necessity, are respecting the cultures and times that these foods represent. They are taking these old foods and updating them, preserving them in the way that Elvis impersonators keep alive The King. As with Elvis impersonators, there are good ones and there are bad ones.
I have for you a recipe that will allow you to encounter scrapple in a thoroughly modern and thoroughly delightful way.
Scrapple You Can Serve Your Friends
- 1 to 1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into chunks
- 1/4 lb (more or less) smoked ham hocks
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1 tbsp minced onion flakes
- a pinch of allspice
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup polenta plus 1/2 tsp salt
Put everything but the polenta in a pot, bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to simmer. Simmer for two or more hours until the meat is totally fall-off-the-bone tender.
When the meat is tender, pull it out (make sure you keep the broth it was boiled in) and pull out all the hock bones. Put the meat into a food processor and buzz just until the chunks are broken down and you've got a nice even chop. Do not over process into a meat paste.
Add the meat back into the broth which you remembered to keep. Bring the broth back to boil. Add the polenta and the additional 1/2 tsp of salt and turn the heat down to simmer.
Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
This "mush" is going to thicken up -- a lot. That's what you want. The thicker the better.
Line a standard loaf pan with plastic wrap, spoon the scrapple into the pan, and press down gently -- another loaf pan nested into the first one works great for this task. Wrap it up, let it cool, then refrigerate over night.
When you are ready to serve, take the scrapple loaf and cut it into slices no thicker than 1/2 inch. Heat a pan on medium and add a tablespoon or so of bacon fryings that you obviously saved from the last time you made bacon, add the scrapple and let it fry until it is nicely browned and just a bit crispy on both sides. You can use vegetable oil too, but you will miss that little kick of flavor that the bacon fryings adds.
Serve it by itself, or as the side to eggs.
Oh, and I think that it is just heavenly drenched in maple syrup.
There it is -- scrapple made from pig parts you know and love -- no offal, nothing that might make you wonder where it came from. In fact, this scrapple has a much lighter taste than the original, less of that strong liver taste, but it has good depth of flavor, pleasantly spiced with just the right amount of heat, and it's really pretty easy to make.
Go ahead, impress your friends.
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