When I was a child, no breakfast was better than a scrapple breakfast. I preferred a plateful of the crispy, savory mystery meat to any bowl of Lucky Charms or stack of chocolate chip pancakes. But then, when I was 10 years old, I learned what scrapple really was.
Honestly, I could have lived happily without ever figuring out what constituted one of my favorite breakfast foods. Surely, most of us could. In case you’ve lived into adulthood in blissful ignorance, this is how scrapple is made: Pork scraps — everything from skins and hearts to livers and tongues — are combined with flour, cornmeal, and spices, then molded into a one-pound brick. It’s not the best food for people who insist on knowing exactly what is in what they’re eating, and certainly isn’t for those that are particularly health-conscious.
I always wondered if there were many scrapple lovers who appreciated it as much as I did. I found my answer recently at the fourth biannual ScrappleFest in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, where scrapple enthusiasts spent a day celebrating the under-celebrated product. I was surprised to see such a large group of people willing to give up a chunk of their Saturday to delight in a food made up of literal scraps of pig not suited for anything else. But if I was going to find a crowd of scrapple enthusiasts anywhere, it was going to be in Philadelphia, scrapple’s spiritual home.
When the Pennsylvania Dutch settled near Philadelphia in the 17th and 18th centuries, they introduced their recipe for scrapple to the area. Here in Philadelphia, it’s a cousin to bacon or sausage, an iconic food featured on brunch menus in restaurants and sold in local farmers’ markets throughout the city. Scrapple is to Philadelphia what the crab cake is to Baltimore or the po’boy is to New Orleans — a delicacy rich in tradition, appreciated by many but not necessarily enjoyed by everyone.
During my first 30 minutes at ScrappleFest, I stood in line with hundreds of others, waiting to taste the variety of featured scrapples. I had never been to an official scrapple tasting before, and certainly wasn’t expecting to find half a dozen producers sampling their products. Every scrapple sample was prepared in the traditional way: thinly sliced, then fried and served with a condiment of choice. I’ve always eaten mine plain, but others reached for ketchup, syrup, or apple butter to compliment their slivers of scrapple. At one point during the tasting tour, my friend, an ex-vegetarian who just started eating meat again, was brave enough to try a bite. Sadly, she didn’t enjoy it enough to join the scrapple enthusiast crowd.
Before I tried the handful of scrapples offered at ScrappleFest, I hadn’t thought much about possible variations between brands. I didn’t notice any stark contrast in flavors — scrapple is just scrapple to me. But there were some scrapple lovers who insisted on remaining loyal to their long-standing favorite producers. Some preferred Leidy’s to Habbersett or Hatfield. Others refused to stray from Dietz & Watson, though the enormous scrapple sculpture carved into the shape of a smiling pig on display at their stand may have swayed a few less stubborn palates. And then there was Stryker Farm’s scrapple, an unusual recipe featuring organic buckwheat flour and naturally raised pigs that was gluten-free — as healthy as scrapple can possibly get, I suppose.
As I talked to those waiting in line around me, I realized that more scrapple lovers than I ever imagined existing surrounded me at this event. “I’d eat that whole pound of scrapple if they’d let me,” said the middle-aged woman standing behind me.
Shortly after, we reached a producer who was distributing raffle tickets for a year of free scrapple. Just as I wondered who would eat scrapple every day for a year, I heard an older gentleman push through the line and plead for a chance to have more than one entry. “Surely, I could eat scrapple every morning for a year!” he said.
While I certainly enjoyed the free scrapple samples, I had ventured to ScrappleFest in the first place to watch the recipe contest, which challenged chefs to create a scrapple dish that wasn’t entirely breakfast-themed. Like everything I encountered at ScrappleFest, the recipes entered into the contest were not what I had imagined. Somehow, the chefs were able to take an ingredient like scrapple and turn it into haute cuisine. There were a mix of differing creations, including a scrapple cheesesteak — a take on a Philadelphia classic; lamb scrapple fried with cranberries and peaches; scrapple panzanella; a scrapple cheese dip; and homemade mahi mahi scrapple hush puppies, which substituted fresh fish for the pork ingredients.
“There’s a whole pound of scrapple in there!” boasted the creator of the scrapple cheese dip, which caused one of the judge’s eyes to bulge.
“This is the first time I’ve heard scrapple and salad used in the same sentence,” said another of the judges before taking a second bite of scrapple panzanella with grapefruit and a bacon vinaigrette, a take on the traditional Italian salad.
“Panzanella is typically a bread salad,” Rebecca Foxman of Valley Shepherd Creamery explained, “but there’s so much cornmeal in scrapple, I figured it could work.” It worked very well, in fact, and Foxman took home a prize for crafting the best scrapple creation in the competition.
After the recipe contest was over, I ended my day with one last sample of scrapple. I went to ScrappleFest hoping to find enthusiasts who loved scrapple as much as I, and left with a revived fondness for the underappreciated food. And now I know a new way to eat it — on top of a salad.
Scrapple Panzanella with Grapefruit and Bacon Vinaigrette
1 bulb fennel, cored and stalks trimmed off, sliced thinly
2 bunches frisée, green parts and stem removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch watercress, torn into bite-sized pieces.
1 head radicchio, thinly sliced
1 cup Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
½ pound good quality scrapple, diced into 1″ pieces
¾ cup bacon fat
¼ pound bacon, chopped
⅓ cup shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 grapefruit, segmented and all juices reserved. Seperate segments from juice.
¼ cup chopped flat leave parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup red, yellow, and black tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
Reserved grapefruit segments
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
If possible, use a mandolin slicer for preparing fennel and Brussels sprouts. Toss together frisée, radicchio, watercress, and the sliced fennel and Brussels sprouts. Set aside.
Heat bacon fat in sauté pan until it begins to smoke. Sear scrapple cubes until browned and crispy on each side. They should resemble croutons. Drain on paper towels immediately and reserve.
Heat sauté pan, cook down bacon until browned and most fat is rendered. Remove bacon with slotted spoon. Turn off heat and add shallots. Let cook 30 seconds to 1 minute (until softened but not browned). Add vinegar, mustard, honey, and reserved grapefruit juice. Return the cooked bacon to the pan and stir. Season with salt and pepper and finish with parsley and basil.
For salad assembly:
In bowl, toss lettuce/fennel/Brussels sprout mix with grapefruit/bacon vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning. Plate and garnish with tomatoes, grapefruit segments, 8-10 scrapple croutons, and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
Recipe by Rebecca Foxman of Valley Shepherd Creamery
Photos by Rachel Wisniewski