Scrapple is a sausage dish enjoyed primarily in the Pennsylvania Dutch region and in parts of the neighboring states of New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.
It is very popular on the Delmarva Peninsula and is celebrated the second weekend of October during the annual “Apple Scrapple Festival.” Each region tends to favor different variations of the product. Most people outside these regions have never heard of it, but it can also be purchased as a commercial product in other U.S locations.
Usually eaten at breakfast, scrapple is also called Philadelphia Scrapple, despite the fact that its origins are actually German.
How Is Scrapple Made?
Scrapple is most likely derived from German black puddings called panhas. These are made with pork parts and blood simmered until they form a gelatinous gruel which is thickened with a grain meal, seasoned with spices, and cooled into a sliceable loaf. The American version is different in that it uses buckwheat and cornmeal instead of European grains and omits the blood. The American version also sticks to a standard seasoning of sage and pepper with different regions adding additional herbs or spices too. The Philadelphia version also uses savory and thyme. There were similar English versions as well, dating as far back as 1390.
English language instances of the Pennsylvania Dutch name pawnhas, pawnhoss, pon haus, and pan host predate the name scrapple, which is not recorded until the 1820’s. These names are thought to refer to the German false hare which was used to describe a meat loaf. In parts of Pennsylvania, these names are still used.
There is a myth, even among those who love scrapple, that it is made with “stuff they sweep off the meat house floor.” The grainy texture, which comes from a large amount of corn meal, is claimed to be bone meal! Scrapple, then, is seen as just an excuse to use whatever parts would normally be discarded. As this explanation shows, scrapple has a long history and tradition, and although it is indeed made from leftovers and “parts” it is not made from inedible parts. The use of the leavings from butchering was an effort to reduce waste, not an excuse to serve inedible food.
Traditionally, scrapple was made with pig’s haslet and offal. Haslet refers to the heart, liver, and other edible organs. The word offal refers to the entrails, although today it is used more broadly to mean any edible organ including entrails. These parts were boiled together in a small amount of water until tender. They were then removed from the water and chopped or ground fine before being put back in the water. The mixture was seasoned with sage and pepper plus any additional seasonings desired. The fat, which collects at the top, was removed, and buckwheat and corn meal were added for thickening. The resulting gruel was boiled until it resembled a thin mush, then put in a vessel to form a loaf. As it cooled it became solid so that it could be sliced.
Buckwheat is considered important to the flavor of true Philadelphia scrapple. According to William Woys Weaver 1 if some other grain is substituted the product is no longer a panhas.
William Woys Weaver, however, has traced panhas back to the 1500’s and thinks that the term may be derived from the word panna which is a type of Celtic vessel. In this way the name of the dish would refer to the vessel it is cooked in, similar to chowders or terrines.
The later scrapple is thought to come from the English work scrap and the German scrabbel, both of which can refer to food leftovers. Here, Weaver claims that the word scrapple instead came from the word panhaskröppel meaning “a slice of panhas” in the original Krefelder dialect of the Germantown settlers. This word was conflated with the English word scrapple which was how the locals said the word schrapel, which meant a scrap or scraping.
It should be noted that scrapple was not always made from kitchen leftovers. In the 1900’s it was also a commercial by-product of the slaughterhouse industry. This could help explain why blood was removed from the recipe, as it was being diverted to other uses. Therefore, although it started as a winter sausage made by farmers, as the slaughterhouse industry grew and roads and railroads improved, it became primarily a commercial product. Home meat grinders like the one introduced by David Beissel in 1818, soon became available, making scrapple once again something that might be made in a home kitchen. Today, though, it is again a primarily industrial product.
The original European preparations varied, but American scrapple is now almost always sliced and pan-fried to be served as a breakfast meat, whether as a sausage accompaniment or part of a breakfast sandwich. It is sometimes served with ketchup or “scrapple sauce.” In Philadelphia, it is sometimes served mixed with fried eggs with horseradish and ketchup.
Taste of Scrapple
What does scrapple taste like? Well, I suppose that depends on where you get it. The Maryland version, with which I am familiar, tastes like a dry, mild breakfast sausage with a grainy texture. I find it quite good on an egg sandwich and to me there is nothing about it that feels any different than eating any country sausage, except for the slight grittiness.
There are several commercial brands of scrapple. One such brand is Habberset, a company that has been around since 1863, the leader in sales for the Philadelphia area. It was originally located in Media, Pennsylvania but now is headquartered in Delaware. Habbersett is probably the first company to have mass produced scrapple, although certainly not the first company to have made it. The ingredients listed are pork stock, pork, pork skins, corn meal, wheat flour, pork hearts, pork livers, pork tongue, salt, and spices.
Habbersett is popular but many swear by Rapa brand Scrapple.
Habbersett Scrapple Ingredients
Habbersatt scrapple contains pork stock, pork, pork skins, corn meal, wheat flour, pork hearts, pork livers, pork tongues, salt and spices.
Habbersett is popular but many swear by Rapa brand Scrapple.
The ingredients of Rapa are similar: Pork Stock, Pork Livers, Pork Fat, Pork Snouts, Corn Meal, Pork Hearts, Wheat Flour, Salt, Spices.
Rappa is the brand you’ll find most often in the Baltimore/Washington area.
Both Habbersett and Rappa is owned by Jones Dairy Farm out of Wisconsin, but operate independently, the ingredients having not been changed.
Notice that both these brands contain no buckwheat, said to be essential to true panhaus. Don’t be confused by the wheat flour and think it buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is not related to wheat and in fact is not a cereal grass at all, but is instead considered a pseudocereal. The word wheat cannot be used to mean buckwheat on a food product label. (Additional references: 2 3 5)
- Weaver, William Woys. Country Scrapple: An American Tradition. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2003.
- Weaver, William Woys. Sauerkraut Yankees: Pennsylvania Dutch Foods & Foodways. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2002.
- Deutsch, Jonathan, and Natalya Murakhver. They Eat That?: A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012.
- McWilliams, Mark. The Story behind the Dish: Classic American Foods. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2012. 4Smith, Andrew F. The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.