Pork Scrapple is a cheap and easy main dish that can be prepped ahead for a quick weeknight meal. Where I’m from out West scrapple is a dessert or candy, essentially a chocolate bark stuffed with nuts and other crunchy things. It’s occasionally used to describe an improvised trail mix or an ice cream with lots of mix-ins. In the American Northeast, however, scrapple is more of a meatloaf made with cast off bits of meat (scraps = scrapple). The meat bits are cut with a grain for a filler: some mixture of cornmeal, buckwheat, and whole wheat seem to be popular, with the ratio tipped firmly in favor of the grain. It superficially resembles a British white pudding or Scotch haggis, but with a much more mellow flavor. This is a waste not, want not recipe intended to stretch a small portion of meat into an entire meal. It has its roots in the Dutch Amish tradition, and seems to be most popular in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.
This particular Pork Scrapple recipe comes from Money-Saving Main Dishes, a 1966 pamphlet published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There’s no mention of the Dutch-Amish connection, which is unsurprising given the source. The USDA is less interested in preserving history than in encouraging protein consumption among mid-century Americans. This cookbook, as it were, compiles 150 main dish recipes categorized by protein source (i.e. eggs, fish, meat). They are designed to be “easy to make, hearty, and economical.” The recipes are not particularly inventive or adventuresome, unsurprising for a government publication. Ingredient lists are short, seasonings are simple, but there’s a commendable variety of recipes ranging from soups and stews to gratins and casseroles. Pork Scrapple comes from a chapter dedicated to grains. The chapter heading explains that grains are generally low in protein, but still provide nearly a fifth of the protein consumed by American families (in 1966.) The recipes in the chapter focus on whole grains, wheat germ supplements, and high-protein flours like soy.
Preparation is straightforward but takes a little bit of advance planning. Pork shoulder is slow-cooked in liquid until fork-tender, then strained and shredded. The broth is cooked with grits or whole wheat cereal until thickened and slightly gluey, then the pork is added back along with some diced onion. The mixture is cooked, then cooled overnight in a loaf pan to form a semi-solid mass, similar to a molded Jell-O salad. When it’s time for dinner, individual pieces of Pork Scrapple are sliced and pan-fried until browned but not too crispy. Traditional Dutch Amish recipes are usually more aggressive with the seasoning, this Pork Scrapple recipe isn’t half bad. It’s kind of bland on its own and needs some help from a sauce or strongly flavored sides, but it’s rich, meaty, and incredibly filling. One slice per person was plenty.
Without any cultural context I chose to serve this with traditional Southern sides. The ingredient list made me thing pulled pork and corn bread, so I added braised collard greens (with bacon), baked beans (also with bacon), and a slightly sweet coleslaw to family dinner. This may be doing a gross injustice to the Dutch Amish tradition, but it was a winning combination. For a more traditional preparation, serve as a breakfast meat with scrambled eggs and potatoes, or smashed between two slices of bread with any number of sweet or savory condiments. This Pork Scrapple recipe may not meet the high standards of mid-Atlantic aficionados, but it’s a versatile source of protein and lives up to the promise of Money-Saving Main Dishes. Enjoy!
The night before
- If needed, cut the pork shoulder into large 2-3 inch chunks. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 2-3 hours until tender. Remove meat from the cooking liquid and shred.
- Strain the reserved cooking liquid and add 1 quart back to the cooking pot. Bring back to a boil, then stir in the grits or whole-grain cereal. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick and a little bit gluey.
- Stir in shredded pork and onion. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened. Pour into a loaf pan, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
When it's time to eat
- Remove the loaf pan from the refrigerator. Loosen the edges with a spatula, then turn out the 'loaf' of scrapple onto a plate. Cut into slices about ½ inch thick, using a sawing motion to cut through any large chunks of pork. Add salt and pepper to taste on one side of each slice.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Fry scrapple slices in bacon fat for 2-3 minutes each side until brown and slightly crispy. Serve immediately.