I have a confession to make.
Though I grew up on a farm outside of Ridgely and my ancestral Eastern Shore roots are documented back to at least 1650, I was not inspired to try scrapple until invited to a Fat Tuesday feast at Christ Episcopal Church in Denton this past Easter season. Surrounded by dedicated scrapple enthusiasts and perhaps moved by the Holy Spirit, I partook of the pork product.
The taste was somewhat predictable but the texture wasn’t at all what I was expecting — fairly crisp on the outside but soft on the inside.
There were myriad reasons for avoiding scrapple until well after my fortieth birthday. Being a farm kid, I knew what went into making it, but even if one does not have agriculture in his or her blood, the word “scrap” in the name is an obvious red flag to most discriminating connoisseurs of fine food. In the interests of full disclosure, on somewhat similar grounds, I proffer that I also tend to sidestep crabs. A shocking admission, I concur; feel free to revoke my Chesapeake Country credentials if you must. Every Delmarva local should know by early adulthood, even if ravenous western shore “chicken neckers” do not, that the crustaceans in question are bottom feeders. I could recount stories about crabs and sewer pipes that drained out into the Choptank River or into the water from Ocean City hotels, but personal decorum prohibits it. Regardless, it logically follows that scrapple never appealed to my palate on any level — and I love a good breakfast buffet piled high with bacon and sausage.
Randy Combs of Enoch Farms near Hobbs was quick to offer a counterpoint on behalf of swine producers both here and elsewhere: “Hogs are one of the few animals produced for food that have the least waste. Scrapple is a prime example of the nose to tail use. And while we might be biased, we certainly think ours is exceptional — it might be that certain something that comes from being grown here in ‘sweet’ Caroline County.”
So be it. It is altogether possible that crabbers and crab partisans will eagerly rebuke me in a subsequent column, but for now I have been tasked with covering the regional phenomenon that is scrapple. Though Caroline County producers, cooks, and shoppers have long been known for their love of the rural delicacy, the exponential growth of a relatively new Facebook group has shed new light on the dish. Created by state politicos Clayton Mitchell, Bunky Luffman, and Bob Zimberoff in February, The Scrapple Trail boasts of, as of press time, over 5400 members. The viral social media account also suggests that more than just the Mid-Shore is part of this particular Pork Belt, as its cover photo is an illustrated map that includes West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland in varying shades of brown.
Once the mandated COVID-19 lockdown is lifted I suppose I will need to plan a road trip in order to investigate scrapple history (apparently dedicated scholarly archives exist in Philadelphia) and to see if nuances in scrapple culture exist state by state or county by county. In the meantime, while making the rounds as part of my weekly “Shore Noir” routine, I was able to learn more about the preferences of local scrapple sophisticates as well as probe their loyalties.
It turns out that Caroline Countians are as passionate about scrapple brands as they are about the meat itself. After first nostalgically recounting family memories of preparation intricacies (especially the butchering process), essentially everyone questioned enthusiastically endorsed the traditional Greensboro Scrapple recipe, though several remarked it is increasingly difficult to duplicate due to corporate consolidation and is now packed in Bridgeville, Del. The same people also generally acknowledged that currently the best commercial scrapple is the Hughes “Delaware Maid” brand out of Felton, Del., and that they are willing to cross state lines, possibly even under the increased scrutiny of executive order enforcement, to get it. I will not divulge my sources as this privileged information was acquired via deep background in the style of Woodward and Bernstein.
I can vouch, however, for the existence of several self-appointed goodwill ambassadors stumping for local scrapple. These superfans delight in endorsing and providing the delicacy to uninitiated family members or complete strangers around the country and as far away as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. I knew better than to ask for any secret family recipes, but did receive some unique unsolicited tips for circumventing airline luggage protocol as well as suggestions to try scrapple sprinkled on both ice cream and pizza.
The dedication of such partisans is relatable. Originally I did not understand why it was such a big deal, but I remember my grandfather beaming at a prayer breakfast far beyond the borders of Caroline County that the menu featured scrapple from Caroline County. We were dairy and grain producers and kept exactly zero pigs on the farm. I get it now; locals are unabashedly provincial when it comes to the particulars of pork preparation and for that matter the church caterers were equally proud they had procured the product presented.
Local historian and Washington, DC-based journalist John Muller takes it one step further with his take on scrapple geography vis-à-vis its place in regional vernacular dialect: “When considering the impact of scrapple on local menus I think we should take into account its proper place among colloquialisms,” Muller told the Times-Record. “If you say, in a friendly way, ‘What’s happening apple scrapple?’ on the Shore, as well as in and around Baltimore and Washington, DC, people will know and recognize the reference.
That our local recognition, or homage, to scrapple has found its way into common and modern local language demonstrates transcendence, permanence, and reverence.”
Muller offers a new use for scrapple beyond your kitchens: “If you affectionately say to someone, ‘Hey now, apple scrapple!?’ and they look at you funny you know they aren’t from the area of scrapple nation.”
Please try that greeting at the eponymous festival in Bridgeville this fall and note the reaction for a future edition of the newspaper. Scrapple is apparently not just a breakfast food but a mindset and way of life if not an outright grassroots social movement.
The Scrapple Trail can be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2584573295005756/