Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scrapple: Philadephia in Atlanta

I put this recipe out with trepidation. Few people will know or care about that Philadelphia area specialty, scrapple. Fewer yet will be interested in making it themselves. It's work and it requires many herbs and spices. In scrapple's heartland, eastern Pennsylvania, you don't make it. Rather you buy it from Amish or Mennonite farmers at regional markets or, next best, in the meat case at the supermarket, near the bacon and sausage. But my kids adore this breakfast treat so much that at least some will make it themselves. This recipe is for them. And for others who are adventurous. But the scrapple is worth it.

So, what is scrapple? The original was the breakfast food made by thrifty German-descended farmers from what was left after hog slaughtering once the hams and bacon were starting to cure, the lard rendered, and the rest of the retrievable meat ground into sausage. The meaty bones along with extra skin, snouts (no kidding, check the label of a commercial scrapple), and part of the liver were boiled up into broth, the bones and cartiledge removed, the soft parts chopped, and the whole thing seasoned with herbs and spices and thickened with cornmeal. After cooling, the scrapple was cut into blocks for storage or sale. The blocks were then sliced and fried and served for breakfast with eggs and potatoes.

I first encountered scrapple and fell for it in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where my mother-in-law served it. Later, being far from where fresh scrapple could be bought (although I've more recently found Dietz and Watson scrapple near the bacon and sausages at the Dekalb Farmers Market), I figured out through trial and error how to make it. Mine has gotten simpler over the years and is now made with ground fresh pork (no more accumulating pork bones in the freezer and stewing them for hours) and uses oatmeal as part of the thickening. It is so popular in my family that no birthday or Christmas or Easter breakfast is complete without it (and one daughter even craved it during pregnancy). Of course, we serve it with grits and eggs, or sometimes with waffles and maple syrup.

Because even this simplified version takes some work, I make a large batch, wrap the blocks in plastic wrap, and freeze them in large zip-lock plastic bags. When it's for breakfast, it's best to defrost a block or two overnight in the fridge for easy slicing and frying. It can also be defrosted just before needed in the microwave, but it does not cut as smoothly. Scrapple should be sliced 1/2-inch thick and fried over medium heat on a large griddle or non-stick frying pan moistened with a little oil. Leave a little space between the pieces, or they will stick together. Fry till golden on both sides. Keep warm until served. Arrange on a platter, and garnish with sprigs of parsley, if desired.

The recipe makes enough to fill two 9 by 13-inch "cake" pans. Cut into 15 blocks per pan, wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen, this makes enough for a lot of wonderful breakfasts.

Scrapple Tim

4 pounds raw ground pork
4-1/2 quarts (18 cups) water
3-inch sprig fresh rosemary, leaves striped off the stem
6 medium-large bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 of a large stick of celery, whole
3 tablespoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dry savory
2 teaspoons marjoram
1-3/4 teaspoons black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons sage, rubbed to break it up
1-1/4 teaspoons thyme
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
6-3/4 cups fine-ground yellow corn meal (not corn meal mix)
2-3/4 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

Mix the ground pork with the water in a large pan with a heavy bottom (or the mixture will burn later in the cooking). Break up any lumps. Bring to a boil, add the onion, celery, rosemary and bay leaves. Simmer, covered, 1/2 hour, stirring from time to time. Remove the celery and bay leaves. Add the salt, sugar, herbs and spices. Let simmer several minutes.

Stirring with a whisk, add the corn meal in a steady stream to avoid lumps. Mix well with a large wooden spoon to distribute the corn meal evenly. Cook a few minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan. Then add the oatmeal in a thin stream, while stiring. Allow to simmer, with frequent stirring, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the mixture is gluey and the corn meal is not crunchy when you bite into a little of the mixture. The cooking time will vary depending on how finely the corn was ground. If more salt is needed, stir it in well to distribute it evenly.

Lightly oil the bottoms and sides of two 9 X 13-inch cake pans. Ladle the hot mixture evenly into the pans and smooth out the surface. Cover with plastic wrap, and let the cakes cool. Refrigerate them for 1 to 2 days. Then cut into blocks (3 X 5 makes good-sized pieces), wrap the individual blocks, and place them on cookie sheets to freeze in the freezer (so they keep their shape). When frozen, pack them in groups into zip-lock plastic freezer bags. Thaw the number of blocks needed in the fridge the night before you plan scrapple for breakfast. (See frying instructions above.)

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