Thursday, January 19, 2012

Scrapple: A (Seriously) Whole Hog Recipe

I still remember the first  - and only - time I ate scrapple.  We were on our annual summer camping trip (Daddy taught public school, and camping was our big vacation of the year) and were somewhere in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  I remember seeing local Amish people in their horse-drawn buggies... and I remember the scrapple that my mother bought at the grocery store and fried up in the iron skillet that always accompanied us on our trips.  Meaty, crispy on the outside, soft and savory in the middle.  Oh my; clearly, it was memorable.

Scrapple is a Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish breakfast staple, made by slow-cooking the scraps and odds and ends of pork that cling to various bones until they fall off of them, and then seasoning the meat and broth and adding cornmeal to it.  After the cornmeal is cooked, the resulting savory mush/polenta is poured into a loaf pan and chilled, then sliced and fried until the exterior is brown and crispy.  You can eat it straight up, or with maple syrup, apple sauce, or eggs.

Cooked Meat Scraps, Head and Trotters

Fast forward 40 or so years....  I've been buying whole meat animals from my rancher friend, Mary Pettis-Sarley for several years now, including many half pigs and a few whole ones.  When Vicky at Ibleto Meats calls for my cutting instructions ("how many chops to the packet, how thick, etc.") there have been several occasions when she has asked if I want the head.  "Uh, no thanks!" has been my reply every time.  I just didn't know what to do with it, and it was (presumably) huge, and well, you know - yuck.  Not that I'm proud of the "yuck;" I do believe that if you eat meat it's respectful of the animal and its sacrifice to use all of it that is humanly possible, but frankly, I just couldn't deal.  But then one day.....

My friend and cooking compadre, Ondine, scored half of a teeny, tiny Ossabaw hog.  And by half, I do mean half.  I don't know what happened to the tail, but the half included a front and a rear trotter, and half of the head, sawn right up the middle.  They were vacuum packed and frozen, and when Ondine kindly agreed to split the split with me, she asked me to put the half head and trotters in my freezer, for us to use in a project later.  And lo, the time came for me to make room for the whole steer we had purchased from Mary (to be shared by a team of 7), and it was time to do something with those trotters and that head.  I thawed them out, and we got ready to make hogshead cheese (aka "souse") because we couldn't think what else you would do with a head.  But then our neighbor Natalie mentioned scrapple, I remembered that breakfast in a Pennsylvania campground 40 years ago, and we "scrapped" the headcheese plans and went for scrapple instead.
Yeah, it wasn't easy dealing with this.

Now, there was a fair amount of work involved, I'm not going to lie to you.  And there was the moment when I unwrapped the thawed head and thought "Dear God, what have I gotten myself into!" (Ondine was busy that day; she says my message to her as I examined the head was priceless.) But I dealt.  It took place over a couple of days; day 1, I cooked the meat and picked through the bones.  Day two, Ondine went through the meat again to make sure I didn't miss any bones or cartilage and chopped the meat.  Meanwhile, I skimmed the fat off the broth, and made sure I got all the bones and such out of the stock.  Then we seasoned it all, cooked up the meaty cornmeal mush and put it in our assortment of loaf pans to cool.  Time consuming, yes. But, it was fun, it made a big batch (I've been generous with it  - so far!) and oh, day three, when we fried it up - it was so gooood! 

You are probably wondering; was it as good as the long-distant memory of scrapple?  Why, yes.  Yes, it was.  But even better was how much my wonderful neighbors, Betty and Jimmy Pugh enjoyed the pieces I gave them.  They grew up in Alabama and have lived in Berkeley for years and years. They had never heard of Scrapple before, but when I mentioned a hogs head and head cheese to Betty, Betty told me that she had made head cheese all the time growing up.  I just knew they would love Scrapple, and they did.  Betty begged me for the next hog's head, as did my Guatemalan friend Lidia.... I doubt I'll ever pass one up again if it's offered to me!

Ondine and I used a recipe from Bette Kroenig, owner of Bette's Oceanview Diner in Berkeley, and adapted it.  Ondine says their scrapple is good stuff, and we do like this recipe - with the adjustments we made to it.


Makes 6 loaf pans full.

1/2 a small pig's head (ahem: brain removed), cleaned
2 trotters, cleaned
several pounds of meaty pork neck bones

or: 1 pork butt roast (about 5 pounds)
4 trotters/hocks, cleaned

1 whole yellow onion, cut in 6-8 pieces
3 stalks celery, cut into 2-3 pieces each
1 TB whole peppercorns
5 or 6 whole cloves
4 bay leaves
a handful of fresh parsley

2-3 tsp cayenne pepper
2 TB fresh ground black pepper
1 TB crumbled dry sage leaves, or chopped fresh
1 whole nutmeg, grated finely
3 TB salt
3 cups white cornmeal
3 cups yellow cornmeal

Put all of the ingredients from section I into a large stock pot, and cover them with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the meat has fallen off the bones, about 3 hours or so.

Cool the pot, and scoop out the solids.  Discard the bones, skin, cartilage, hunks of fat, and anything else you don't consider fit to eat.  (My friend Lidia snatched up every one of these discards except the bones, and cooked them with black beans that night.  It was "Muy delicioso!" she says!)  Discard the peppercorns, celery, etc.  When the meat is cool enough, chop it into small pieces.  (You can use a food processor - we didn't.)  You should have about 5 or more pounds of meat.  The more meat, the merrier.

Strain the broth - reserving it!  If you want to do this over a few days, chill the broth and meat overnight.  This makes it easier to skim off the fat.  Otherwise, use your best talents to skim off the fat - there will be plenty of it!  Measure the stock; you should have about 1 gallon to 5 or 6 quarts.  If you are a bit short, you can add some water to it to make up the difference.

In your smaller stockpot, put the stock, all of the spices and salt, and the meat, stir well, and bring it back to a boil.  In a separate stockpot, large enough to hold everything, put the cornmeal, whisking it to combine it well.  Turn the heat on under the pan to medium. Using your best ladle, ladle in a few measures of the hot stock and stir well.  Continue to add the stock, stirring well to incorporate it, until you have added all the stock.  Stir constantly until the mush has cooked and thickened, about 15-30 minutes.  When it is done, rinse each loaf pan in cold water before filling it.  Use your ladle to fill the pans, then press the scrapple into the corners of the pan and spread the top smooth with a spatula.  When all of the scrapple has been put into the pans, cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator to chill.

To prepare it for serving: run a knife around the edges of the loaf pan, then use a butter knife or some such to help dislodge the loaf from the pan.  Carve slices about 1/2" thick.  Heat some bacon drippings, butter or oil in your iron skillet over medium high heat until hot, then add the slices of scrapple.  When the underside is truly golden brown and crusty (don't rush it!) flip it over and repeat.  Serve alone, or with maple syrup, apple sauce or eggs.


  1. Well, yeah, great... But after reading your wonderful prose you now have me more intrigued by what "head cheese" is! ☺

    1. Hmmm... guess I'll have to make "head cheese" next time and report on it! Thanks so much for the nice compliment; let me know how the scrapple turns out if you make it.