Did too many cooks spoil the scrapple?

Scrapple?

This favored pork product was traditionally made on local farms by the Pennsylvania Germans using the trimmings and offal left over after butchering a hog.

Let me be totally honest with you.  I can count on one hand the times I’ve actually eaten this misunderstood and much maligned Mid-Atlantic Pennsylvania Dutch specialty.  Even after you add in the breakfast order of Goetta, scrapple’s Cincinnati cousin, I’d still have a digit or two left over on that hand.

While I had certainly heard of scrapple growing up, it never appeared on our breakfast or dinner table.  A co-worker introduced me to it while we were on a business trip in Wilmington, DE.  It wasn’t bad. 

In the intervening years, I have taken the opportunity to add it to a breakfast plate another one or two more times.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on the subject.

When friend, neighbor and fellow food adventurer Mark spotted a listing for a workshop on scrapple and sausage making, I invited myself along.

On a bright, breezy March Saturday, we joined with 10 other participants for the two hour class held on the grounds of the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA.

Our instructors for the day, Jim King and his uncle, Paul Longacre , continue the generations old tradition of an annual hog butchering and the subsequent making of scrapple and sausage with family and friends.  This was the second year that they shared part of their tradition with the public via the workshop.

Taking in the scene upon arrival, the first thing I noted was the large propane burner set up with a bathtub sized cast iron cauldron over it.  Inside was some kind of meaty broth…presumably what was left after boiling the pork trimmings, organ meats, and/or whatever other “scraps” left over from butchering.*

Sitting on a bench by the meat grinder was a plastic tub of cooked meat.  This was ground and added back to pot. Seasonings (black pepper, salt, coriander, sage, etc.) were added, and then slowly, cornmeal. 

Photo courtesy of Mark Stradling

 All the while the mixture was stirred with a large paddle to prevent lumps from forming and the thickening mass from scorching.

The dozen of us crowded around the huge cast iron cauldron and were given forks so we could sample the porridge and advise on the seasonings.  On the cue from Jim King we dipped our forks into the bubbling, steaming ‘pudding’ in the pot.

“Does it need anything?” King asked.

A variety of answers were uttered. 

“Salt!”

“{Black} Pepper!”

“Maybe some more sage or coriander.”

While this might have been good for instructional purposes, I’m not sure it benefited the end product.

After adjusting the seasonings, buckwheat flour was stirred in. This ingredient surprised me, but you could see how it softened and smoothed the texture of the finished scrapple as well add an earthy character to the overall flavor.

Once the mixture was cooked enough, it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot while stirred.  At that point, we formed a little assembly line to scoop the hot mixture into loaf pans that were then left to cool and set up. For the sausage part of the workshop, we began by trimming and cutting up pieces of what Paul referred to as “pork sirloin” (generally speaking, meat from the upper hip or the butt end of the loin). This was such a lean cut of meat that it really required little trimming.  In fact, I would have left the fat in place and think the resulting sausage would have been much better for it.

With the trimmed meat collected, we started taking shifts running it through the grinder.  The ground pork was collected in a tub and the seasoning began.  Salt, pepper, coriander, sage and some fennel seed were added to the meat. Paul took a small handful, made a patty and fried it off in an electric skillet.  Once again, the communal tasting took place and additional seasonings were added.  We repeated the patty test, made final adjustments to the seasonings and then moved right into the stuffing process.

Earlier, a tub of natural hog casings had been opened and run through a few changes of water before being left to soak a bit.  One of us was assigned to cut the casings into lengths about four feet long while another loaded up the hand cranked sausage stuffer.

With two people holding down either side of the board the stuffer was mounted on, a third person cranked the press while a fourth “caught” and guided the freshly filled casing as it slipped off of the stuffing horn.  Each length of sausage was then taken over to a makeshift rack…a board suspended between two limbs of a nearby tree, and draped there to set and dry slightly while we cleaned up and made ready to leave.

We divvyed up the days production and made our way home.  The next morning, I fried up a couple of pieces of scrapple and a patty I’d made out of some of the sausage mixture and served them with a couple of eggs over easy.  The scrapple was pretty good…I could see where a more planned seasoning program would improve it.  The sausage was rather dry and bland.  I certainly would add more fat to the “paste” and significantly increase the seasonings.

Still, it was a good afternoon that provided the opportunity to meet new people and try our hand at something out of the ordinary with edible results.

This is the recipe for scrapple that we were given at the workshop. (NOTE: I would only use this as a guide to the process and leave measurements, ratios, etc. up to the individual cook).

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 onto a tray and let 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 the following:

  • ½ part ground meat
  • ½ part broth
  • 1/8 pound pepper (to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tbsp salt
  • Handful of coriander (ground)
  • 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 buckwheat flour gradually (sprinkle by hand slowly and stir so lumps do not form). Cook until boilng. Add whole wheat flour as needed to thicken. Entire contents will separate from sides of put. Quickly scoop scrapple into pans and let cool. Have hot water ready to pout into pot, so it doesn’t burn or crack. This will also help with clean-up.

*Mark and I were grinding up the last of the pork loin for the sausage and so missed the explanation of what all had gone into the scrapple pot before hand.

Photo courtesy of Mark Stradling

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3 Responses to “Did too many cooks spoil the scrapple?”

  1. Mark Says:

    Yeah, their “recipe,” such as it is, leaves everything to chance. I mean, what is “one-half part broth” and “one-half part meat”?

  2. Sausage, Links, Loins for the Family : Family Meal Planning and Simplifying Life With Kids Says:

    […] Did too many cooks spoil the scrapple? (djeat.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Marshetta Davis Says:

    Really enjoyed reading this.

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