Food History

The Mystery Meat of My Dreams

Over 400 years old and still trending, scrapple is rustic, locally grown, and—oh yeah—literally snout-to-tail.

March 18, 2020
Photo by @haltemanfamilymeats/Instagram

What’s in it?” I asked my dad, who occasionally enjoyed a crisp slab of scrapple with his eggs on Saturday mornings.

“Everything in the pig but the oink,” he said.

Growing up in northern Delaware, scrapple was something we always had in the fridge—but, picky eater that I was, I never touched the stuff. My dad’s evocative description, paired with its less-than-savory name, was enough to put me off scrapple for most of my childhood. Though it was made with love (and often) in my mid-Atlantic home, the mystery meat product failed to rise above a grey, jellied block of odds and ends (though I was, and still am, never above a hot dog).

It wasn’t until I hit adulthood that I learned to appreciate scrapple in all its glory, and started packing frozen blocks to take back with me to school. There, back in my college dorm, I’d slice off a thick slab each morning, fry it in a skillet, and eat it piping hot. Good scrapple should develop a hauntingly crispy crust, one that yields to funky, creamy insides.

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“My family is from the Midwest; our family's variant on scrapple is "pan hash." Essentially the same, only thickened with oatmeal, and with spices such as cinnamon, rather than savory herbs (I prefer the savory, myself, but my mom always makes me promise not to change the recipe when I make it for the family...). My grandmother made it from the organ and head meat, like they did on the farm during the Great Depression; we make it from pork roast.”
— Doug R.
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As Amy Strauss, author of Pennsylvania Scrapple: A Delectable History, tells me, it’s been that good ever since its inception in the 1600s, when German settlers arrived in what would eventually be Pennsylvania. To fuel long, wintry days of farming, they needed a staple that would keep them full—and cheaply.

Their solution arose when they encountered Indigenous maize, which, at that point, was already being dried and ground into meal by the Algonquin and Iroquois peoples of the area. “They mixed cornmeal with all of the leftover scraps from their day’s butchering and voila—scrapple was born,” Strauss says. The cornmeal allowed the German settlers to stretch trimmings (brain, snout, eyes, probably the oink) into more meals than eating the meat alone would provide. Simple, hearty, and inexpensive, scrapple became a dietary staple, and remained a go-to source of protein for the country-dwelling settlers for the following centuries.

According to Strauss, the 1800s was the first time scrapple made any notable appearance outside of a farmland setting—and only because ex-farmers-turned-industrial-workers grew nostalgic for it. Philadelphia had begun to lead the nation in industrial textile, ship, and oil production, luring generational farmers away from agricultural work. The pork product was no longer just a thrifty food, but a comfort to workers as they navigated this transition; sold at the public market, Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, it went fast: “Scrapple went from being something that was a household breakfast meat on the farm, to quality, working-class food at the factory,” Strauss explains. Although these urban transplants were no longer farmers by trade, they could honor their agricultural roots (and stay full in an inexpensive, delicious manner) by eating the beloved dish.

Although it made its way out of the farmlands and into the city, scrapple struggled to gain traction outside of the mid-Atlantic region, mainly due to its reputation as a “catch-all” food made from butchering scraps, only suitable for working country people, Strauss explains. Strauss describes the account of one Pennsylvanian who moved to cosmopolitan New York City in the 1870s, only to find himself in a cold, scrapple-less world: “He couldn’t find anything like it in New York. He was having to eat pork chops for breakfast.”

Scrapple is not only decidedly anti-cosmopolitan—it's anti-change, as well. Strauss mentions one Lancaster-based company that tried selling maple-flavored and spicy varieties, only to find that the tried-and-true original remained their most popular product. “People don’t want you to mess with a good thing,” she says. “It’s a part of people's DNA. They were raised with it—they don’t need it to be fancy.”

While scrapple endured for centuries thanks to its nostalgic and regional appeal, the relatively recent rise of the slow food and nose-to-tail movements has resulted in a new set of admirers. Indeed, the pork-and-cornmeal-mush’s rustic simplicity and inherently waste-free recipe lend it extremely well to both schools of thought: You don’t get slower than a pre-Industrial, mid-Atlantic pork-and-Indigenous-corn product, and more nose-to-tail than with, well, a jellied block of nose-to-tail.

Scrapple is not only decidedly anti-cosmopolitan—it's anti-change, as well.

Though, for the record, most modern-day producers are instead turning to richer, fattier cuts like the heart, liver, skin, and tongue. This approach doesn't go so far as to take scrapple from humble to high-on-the-hog, but it certainly indicates how our palettes have shifted from the 17th century to the 21st: We’ll try exotic foods because we can, not because we have to.

Much like the identity of the mid-Atlantic region itself—trapped between the Northeast and American South, scrapple scrappily refuses to be categorized. It can be eaten for breakfast or dinner, with hot sauce or grape jelly, with or without an egg on top, on its own or in a sandwich. As long as you get it as crispy as humanly possible before digging in, you’re doing scrapple justice. All that’s left for you to do is to spread the gospel to a non-believer: The best approach is probably just frying up a piece to taste.

As Strauss puts it, “Once you try it, you can’t not love it.”

How do you like your scrapple? Let us know in the comments!

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.

21 Comments

Jenny March 31, 2020
I love scrapple for breakfast lunch or dinner. It was a staple growing up in north New Jersey in the 1950's. We always ate it with a side of home made applesauce.
 
Kimberly B. March 30, 2020
I’m from MD, 1 mile from the PA border and 5 miles from DE. Grew up on scrapple and still love it! Even when I went vegan for a while in college, when I went home I ate scrapple. Now I live in Indiana, in an area where there’s a big Amish population. They sell scrapple from Lancaster in the Amish stores and I always buy it up. My husband, who’s from East Chicago, hates scrapple with every ounce of his being. If only I could find King syrup out here.... that’s what we always put on our scrapple.
 
ellen C. March 29, 2020
I grew up in rural Virginia. My parents ate it and I love it! I used to get it fresh, but now can only find one brand in grocery stores. Would love some fresh from Pa!
 
Faith K. March 29, 2020
Grew up with it in Chester County PA. Had to be Habersett's.
***** Note to those trying it for the first time, slice it thin and DON'T FOOL WITH IT until you can see it's good and brown on the bottom side. The wonderful mystery is that the outside gets a thin layer which is just as crispy as a good gingersnap while the inside is soft and creamy. So good.
 
Amanda C. March 29, 2020
Gotta put in a shout-out for scrapple! I'd never had it before I moved to the East Coast, but I was predisposed. I'm from the Cincy area, where we have goetta. Goetta is a mixture of animal parts and oats...it is is delicious. Scrapple is a good backup when I feel nostalgic.
 
Stephanie M. March 29, 2020
I’m from Philly soooo...I grew up on scrapple. Love it! Still cook it at least once a month. Has to be Habbersett brand and must be the original (not beef or turkey). I like it cut medium thick and fried crisp. When you put it in the pan leave it alone! Cook for about 3-5min and then flip. This method keeps it from falling apart.
 
Doug R. March 26, 2020
My family is from the Midwest; our family's variant on scrapple is "pan hash." Essentially the same, only thickened with oatmeal, and with spices such as cinnamon, rather than savory herbs (I prefer the savory, myself, but my mom always makes me promise not to change the recipe when I make it for the family...). My grandmother made it from the organ and head meat, like they did on the farm during the Great Depression; we make it from pork roast.
 
LadyDiTejas March 20, 2020
My granny was a scrapple eater. Might have to try my hand at making it at home! Thanks for the memories and recipe.
 
Sarah March 20, 2020
Love it thinly sliced and fried crispy. Just saw scrapple fries, scrapple cut into strips and fried. Gotta try it!
 
Heather G. March 19, 2020
You forgot to mention the two camps for scrapple eaters (I am from Lancaster, PA). Folks here eat it with either maple syrup on top, or ketchup...rarely unadorned.. Everyone is quite passionate about their choice, and look down their noses at "the other side" :) Anyone on Food 52 have an opinion?
 
Eileen S. March 29, 2020
We love ketchup in my family, though it must be said that as far as my hubby is concerned ketchup should have it's own food group, LOL!
 
gandalf March 19, 2020
In the picture, it looks similar to a fried sausage patty. How does it compare in taste/texture to sausage?
 
Iamhaley March 19, 2020
The cornmeal changes the texture from sausage. It gets very crispy on the outside and mushier than sausage on the inside.
 
HalfPint March 18, 2020
I’ve heard about scrapple and now I’m totally intrigued. Fried up, it looks delicious. Before frying, not so much. But if @Antonia James says it’s good then I can’t wait to try it 😁
 
Andrew J. March 18, 2020
In NYC , you can get a cheesesteak almost anywhere, but ask for Scrapple? Huh?The reaction is worse when you explain what it is ... " You eat that"?!
RAPA brand is more popular in Delaware ( where its made) but in Philly, Habbersett rules the diner sidedish. Insider's note: A brand made by Kirby-Holloway is far tastier than either brand , but is impossible to find north of Wilmington.
 
AntoniaJames March 18, 2020
I grew up in rural Fairfax County VA (back when there was such a thing). My mother, whose mother was born and raised in Philadelphia, always bought scrapple at the local Safeway. I loved the stuff and can vividly recalled the taste and texture. I've made my own in the past. When I can get great locally sourced pork again, whenever the farmers markets open this spring or summer, I plan to do so again.

FrugalCat, we had something called "Taylor's Pork Roll"which I think is related to Taylor Ham. That too was delicious. Those two, scrapple and "TPR" were among the many simple but delightful foods I sort of took for granted growing up. (I didn't realize until I went to college in New Hampshire that those were not foods everyone in the US enjoyed.)

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe, but I might note that when I made my own, adding marjoram and nutmeg was key in making it taste like the scrapple we had growing up.

The secret to scrapple success lies in keeping it very cold until just before you plan to cook it, and then slicing it as thinly as possible, to get those wonderful crispy, crunchy edges. ;o)
 
Iamhaley March 18, 2020
I'm from southern Delaware and grew up on scrapple too! I love it super thin and crispy like yummy meat chips.
 
Andrew J. March 18, 2020
Rapa or Habbersett?
 
Iamhaley March 18, 2020
Habbersett or Local Milton scrapple. There's even a scrapple festival in bridgeville DE.
 
Sarah March 20, 2020
Rappa all the way. Hot and spicy if you can find it.
 
FrugalCat March 18, 2020
Ah, scrapple. As a teen, I crossed the Delaware River from New Jersey (home of Taylor Ham for egg sandwiches) to Pennsylvania, where my boyfriend's mom fried up scrapple for breakfast. She bought it from the store- never heard of anyone making it. I liked it but haven't had it in years and don't really miss it.