31 July 2014

Scrapple Nirvana . . . Almost

It has been 39 years since I enjoyed scrapple as much as I did today.  Thirty-nine!  My Grandmother, Catherine Louise (STARR) KRIEBEL passed away too soon in 1975; I was twelve, and until today, I haven’t had scrapple that has measured up to the memory of my family’s scrapple recipe . . . well, sort of.

See, a couple of things have been ‘against’ my enjoying scrapple as I did in my youth:

  1. There are many variations of the recipe – as many people there are in the world, that is how many different recipes there seemingly are for scrapple.  And, none taste quite like my family’s recipe.
  2. Grocery store-bought and massed produced scrapple should be left . . . on the scrap heap!
  3. For me to have scrapple that even comes remotely close to what I enjoyed as a child, my Dad must bring blocks – that’s right blocks! – of it down several times a year from Pennsylvania Amish country.  It still isn’t quite like my family’s recipe, but, it is closer.
  4. As I mentioned, I was just 12 when my Grandmother passed away and I didn’t know yet that genealogy, family history and the preservation of family recipes and memorabilia would become a passion!  So, it never occurred to me to ask and ensure that my family’s scrapple  recipe be preserved.  Nor, the recipe for the condiment of choice (Green Tomato Relish) to serve with the crispy-fried scrapple slices.  And, while I have asked over the past 27, of the 39, years all family members that were involved with pig butchering day for the recipe, it would seem that it is . . . lost.  Crying face

CONFESSION TIME:  Every fall, when my uncle brought 2 – 3 slaughtered pigs from his farm to my Grandparent’s home in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, we all gathered for a day of butchering; my Grandparents, their children, Carolyn; Richard; Barbara; and Gerry and their respective spouses John; Janet; Durrell; and Jerry and their children would all descend into the basement of the KRIEBEL home.  Well, all except the grandchildren – we had more important things to do. . . PLAY!  So, I never witnessed the process or how the scrapple was made.  Yet, because of my love for my Grandparents and family and because I so enjoyed the fruits of their labor – scrapple, sausage, bacon and . . . oh, my!  I have very fond and treasured memories* of pig butchering days.  Pictures you ask?  I have seen pictures that my Grandmother took of the process,  but just like the recipes, they seem to be lost to me forever.

*hopefully, as family members read this, they will share their memories of pig butchering day in the comments.

Okay, so how did I accidentally achieve scrapple nirvana?  Before I get into that, let’s discuss what scrapple is.  I must say, until I grew up, married and moved from Pennsylvania, I thought that scrapple was a universal food product much like bacon and sausage, it never occurred to me that scrapple – and, what it is – wouldn’t be as well known in other locals.

After a pig is butchered, there is lots of stuff leftover – scraps, including internal organs and intestines - no, no, don’t be scared, when it all comes together, it tastes really good!!  For scrapple these scraps are cooked down into a stew, ground up with the other leftover bits of meat and combined with cornmeal for texture.  The mixture is then cooled down into a loaf, sliced and griddled to serve.  It is most often served for breakfast with eggs and potatoes.  Essentially, you are eating a pork burger with your breakfast.

My passion for genealogy and family history, recipes and memorabilia really blossomed in my late teens and became an addiction after our first child was born in 1988.  I am forever reminiscing about my ancestors, grandparents, my childhood and bygone days.  And, when I get together with fellow Pennsylvanians, scrapple and green tomato relish and how I just can’t find a brand or Amish produced product that measures up to the ‘taste memory’ that I have always seems to come up.  One such conversation some years ago, prompted the father of a dear friend to write down his family’s recipe for scrapple and share it with me.  Here it is . . . (yes, you must continue reading to learn about my nirvana experience.  Smile with tongue out

(1) Cut heads four ways to remove tongue, eyes, ears and also saw off teeth.  Scrape tongue and ears in the hot water to remove hair, then put into tub for pudding meat.

(2) (for pudding) Cook head meat, hearts and kidneys, put in kettle about 10 gallons of water and two handfuls of salt then cook till meat falls from bones, add livers approximately 10 minutes before removing meat from kettle. Juice is saved for scrapple.

(3) Pick the head meat apart while hot, add about 3 medium onions and grind all together with cracklings.  Put about 10 gallons of water in a #2 kettle to cook pudding in, after water comes to boil, cook about 20 minutes, but not too hard a boil as it will burst skins

(4) Using the pudding water, add pig head, juice, season with salt and pepper, add enough water to bring about 6” from top of kettle, add slowly 1-1/2 pounds of yellow corn meal to a batch using about 12 – 15 pounds of buckwheat flour, sprinkle in slowly with hand so it will not lump, stirring continuously.  Bring to a rolling boil and if necessary add 3 – 6 pounds of new lard, so it shows around the edge of kettle.  Boil for about 10 minutes then remove from fire, but continue stirring for about 4 – 5 minutes more.

There are many ways to enjoy scrapple:  with molasses, maple syrup, apple butter, cottage cheese . . . but my Grandmother served it with green tomato relish.  For years, 39, to be exact, I have eaten scrapple plain, which is okay, but . . . I loved it with Grandmom’s relish.  While I have tried store-bought and Amish handmade green tomato relish from all over Pennsylvania and various other locals, none measure up to Grandmom’s recipe.  None!  Mostly because they are all too sweet.  Grandmom’s green tomato relish recipe had just the right ratio of sweet and vinegar – more vinegar - which goes well with the scrapple.  But today, I have had an epiphany that just may have changed my scrapple eating experience for my remaining days . . .

After frying up the ubiquitous Pennsylvania German breakfast of fried scrapple, home fries and eggs, my husband and I sat down at the table for our Saturday breakfast meal.  And,suddenly I had an idea.  I said to my husband, “we have Banana Pepper slices in the refrigerator, I wonder how they would taste with scrapple?”  “It isn’t green tomato relish but, they are jarred in vinegar and an added bonus is that they have a bit of a spicy bite.”  We both said, “hmmm?”  Off to the refrigerator for that jar.  I  piled a couple of slices onto my fried scrapple, gathered a bite-sized piece with a pepper or two and . . . heaven!  Well, sort of.  It wasn’t Grandmom’s relish, I will always miss that, but, it is the only thing in all these years that has even come close to her perfect condiment.

Now, we always have banana peppers in the refrigerator, so please, please tell me, why on earth, did it take 39 years for me to have this epiphany and almost nirvana experience with scrapple heaven?!!!

Now, I know that you are still not too sure about scrapple; you just can’t get passed what goes into it, but consider this.  Scrapple is no longer just a by-product of pig butchering and waste not, want not.  No, really, it has moved up the food chain to seriously good eats!  It has been featured on the Food Network Channel by celebrity chefs. It has been making appearances in restaurants and it is featured at Pennsylvania German and Dutch festivals..

Speaking of restaurants, I recently learned that my hometown peeps have been holding out on me – what’s up with that Chris? – A new restaurant, Greenheart Café, has appeared on the scene in Collegeville, Pennsylvania and was featured in the Times Herald Newspaper in March of this year.  From what I’ve read, they’ve elevated scrapple to gourmet . . . a featured dish on their menu is their Poutine – hand cut French fries with crispy scrapple, freshly made brown gravy, creamy fontina cheese and fresh herbs.  Yes, please!!

So, if you’ve never had scrapple, I encourage you to try it; if you’ve had scrapple and enjoy it, I encourage you to share how you enjoy eating it; if you enjoy scrapple and your family made their own recipe, I encourage you to share what made the recipe uniquely your family’s.  And, I encourage us all to try the elevated and gourmet scrapple dishes that are making appearances on the Food Network Channel, in restaurants and at German and Dutch festivals and to share your culinary experiences. 

For those that may visit Collegeville, Pennsylvania, located in Montgomery County just 1-1/2 hours northeast of Philadelphia, I hope that you’ll visit the Greenheart Café and let me know how you liked the poutine.  And, if you enjoy festivals, I hope you’ll visit the 25th Annual Pennsylvania Dutch Festival next week Thursday, 7 August – Saturday, 9 August 2014; click on the German and Dutch Festivals hyper link above for information.

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