Story and Photos by Ben Piperno
“When you’re done making real meat, you take all the leftover parts of the pig, grind it up with buckwheat and cornmeal. Let it solidify into a gelatinous loaf and then cut thin and fry it.” said Joseph Buza, Northeastern’s resident scrapple enthusiast. He sits a proud Pennsylvanian, with a German flag, Hershey Park cup, a can of Yuengling, homemade hooch and a copy of Pennsylvania Scrapple: A Delectable History.
Scrapple’s first mention was in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1796, the first successful daily newspaper in U.S. history. Rhetor, the article’s author’s given name, describes tasting the pork concoction: “It was in square cakes, cut dainty thin, and it was done to a crisp brown, so that it crackled pleasantly between the teeth. Could there, truly, be a more palatable dish for a frosty morning?” Rhetor’s Pennsylvania German host fed him a dish supposedly invented more than 50 years prior. Scrapple is derived from traditional German minced meat dishes like Pan Haas, boiled meat that was ground and then stuffed into skins like sausage.
Cornmeal, a New World product, was mixed in by German colonists (also called the Pennsylvania Dutch or Deutsche). This made scrapple lighter and much crispier. It spread to Delaware, greater regions around Philadelphia and New Jersey. In 1904, W.B. Trites of Leslie’s weekly reported that Philadelphia factories produced over 400,000 pounds of scrapple a week. Every butcher, farmer, and household guarded their own secret scrapple formula.
Today, the R&R Provision Co. and others sell scrapple in grocery stores through Pennsylvania. It sells for as little as $1.90 per pound, $1.23 cheaper than spam. From the qualities of cheapness and grossness, a counterculture movement has formed in Philadelphia, with scrapple at its heart.
Proponents argue that offal and trimmings have been wrongly stigmatized; liver and heart have an acquired taste most Americans aren’t acquainted with. Additionally, the grinding, boiling and frying involved brings out lots of flavor from the fat and connective tissue in trimmings.
“You know that if you’re eating meat that an animal was killed for you to consume,” said Joseph. “People around [Boston] tend to be uncomfortable with where food comes from. That seems to be mostly because people don’t hunt around here.”
Joe is part of the 7.6% of Pennsylvanians with a hunting registration. In his escapades he’s eaten deer, rabbits, fish, and even squirrels that he himself shot and then dressed, in which he opens up and cleans the carcass. In Massachusetts only 0.84% of residents are registered hunters. A much larger portion of the Pennsylvania population is introduced to hunting, slaughtering and butchering at a young age. With that comes a tolerance not only of the physical guts and innards, but of the psychological repercussions of slaughter.
“It’s become sort of a [community] inside joke but everyone enjoys it unironically,” Joseph said. ”It became a family joke to have scrapple when my cousins from Rhode Island would come visit us in Pennsylvania.”
The Buzas eat scrapple sparingly when not with company, maybe once every few weeks. But they know how to party when the time comes.
“My dad bought my uncle an ‘I heart Scrapple’ T-shirt. We even found a bottle of Scrapple-flavored vodka in Delaware,” said Joseph. “It didn’t taste that much like scrapple, but your burps did.”
Scrapple could be changed to appeal to larger audiences. It could take on the name of its ancestor, Pan Haas. Ingredient lists could be simplified to Pork, Cornmeal, water and spices to appease mainstream audiences. Spices and food dyes could even be added to give unfried scrapple an appealing color.
Christina Flavin is an otherwise unaffiliated Northeastern student in her junior year. She was introduced to the scrapple-making process during an interview with the NU Food Journal.
“If I didn’t know it had pig head I might try it. I think the pig head is just something that I wouldn’t want to eat,” said Christina. “It’s just a lot.”