I never realized how big scrapple is in Pennsylvania until I moved out of the state and met so many people who had no idea what scrapple is. I was baffled, which usually followed with a jaw drop and then a response such as “What?! Scrapple. You know, the breakfast meat that looks like a sausage patty, but isn’t.” Ok, so maybe I wasn’t even so sure what exactly scrapple is. But last week I took some time to sit down with my Dad and learn the process of making scrapple. He has been making it for years with some of his friends and as a matter of fact, all of the scrapple we serve at the Inn comes from our personal, homemade supply. Warning, this article is not for the faint of stomach.
Scrapple starts after all of the other butchering of pigs and steer is complete. Basically, it means all of the meat has been removed from the bones except for those pieces that are really close to the bone. However, as I learned from my dad, this is some of the best tasting meat on the entire animal. So, instead of letting it go to waste, they use it to make scrapple.
The easiest way to get this meat off the bone is to boil it. So, they take all of the bones and put them in a big kettle full of water that is heated with a wood fire from below. The bones and the water have to boil for about three hours before you can begin to separate, so it is usually at this point that the guys share some beers and a few good jokes and stories. Once it’s been boiling long enough, the bones are scooped out with a strainer and the meat is literally pulled right off the bone. Thankfully, most of it falls off so the work is done for them. Then, they take the broth that is left in the kettle and strain it to remove all of the leftover bones, fat, etc. and are left with a pure meat broth.
Next, they take out the meat and lay it on the counter to pick out any ligaments, fat, and pieces of bone – everything but the meat – and then run it through a grinder. While someone is doing this, someone else is washing and rinsing the kettle because it is back to boil for this meat. The kettle has been filled half with clean water and half with the broth that was strained and saved from before. This is then brought to a boil and the ground meat is then added and the mixture is brought back to a boil. Now, it is time for the ingredients – buckwheat flour, coriander, crushed black pepper and some salt to season – and yet again, brought back to a boil. The important part here is that once the meat is added, the mixture must be stirred the entire time or the contents will stick to the kettle and burn. Now, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that this whole process takes about 4 hours. Yes, that’s right; this must be stirred continuously for FOUR HOURS! And not only that, but the entire time it is boiling, the wood fire below must be kept at a certain temperature. Thankfully, there are a few guys that all pitch in to help and by this time, they are a few beers deep so the time seems to fly by. Once the mixture is turning in one piece and no longer sticking to the pan, it’s time to scoop and set.
This is the fun and fast part. One person will stand by the kettle and scoop the mixture into a pan being held by someone else. That person then passes the pan to the next person and the next person until it reaches the table where it is set to cool. This has to happen quickly because the fire is hot and once you stop stirring, the mixture starts to stick and burn. The entire kettle is empty and set to cool within 5 minutes. And that’s it, the hard part is over. The scrapple is let to cool overnight in the unheated butcher shop, and then put in the cooler. After 3 or 4 days, it’s back to the shop to cut the scrapple with a slicer and vacuum pack so it is ready to be stored in the freezer and used throughout the year.
So that’s it. The mystery of scrapple demystified. And, as you can see, contrary to popular belief there are no ears, tails, heads, etc. added to the mixture. Although, my dad did use the ears to make shoe sealer when he lived in Italy, but that’s a story for another day.
– Shena –