A reader wrote to me about a scene in Anna’s Crossing, in which a pig is brought on board the Charming Nancy. “Why,” he asked, “would anyone bother to bring a pig to the New World?”
It might surprise you to learn that early immigrants brought all kinds of animals, including pigs and chickens, along on the Atlantic Ocean voyage to the New World. Even the pilgrims on the Mayflower brought animals with them. The obvious reason is that they didn’t know what might be available on the other side of the ocean. The less obvious answer is that they planned to do in the New World what they knew how to do in the Old World. For the Old Order Amish of the Palatinate region, that meant raising pigs.
Historically, many farmers had raised hogs in Germany because pigs, unlike beef cattle, didn’t require much grazing land. Land was plentiful in Penn’s Woods, and early settlers did start to raise beef cattle but kept little of it for themselves. Before the development of the railroads in the 1830s and 1840s, they sent their cattle to the Philadelphia and Baltimore markets. Pigs, though, were raised primarily for a family’s consumption.
And those frugal Germans knew how to use almost every piece of meat on a pig. “Every corner,” goes the saying. The fronts, sides and hindquarters of the hog were smoked. Loins and ribs were cut into fresh chops and roasts. The pig’s feet were boiled with vinegar and spices to make souse. Excess fat was rendered into lard for cooking. Head cheese and souse, sausage, roasts, ribs and hams. Even the bladder, stomach and tail were considered treats for the children—roasted over the open fire on butchering day, along with cracklings (cooked down lard).
Nothing was wasted. Large scraps were mixed into sausage, stuffed into cleaned intestinal casings. Small scraps were mixed with cornmeal and seasonings into scrapple, a popular Pennsylvania Dutch dish.
Scrapple came all the way from Germany. In fact, it dates back to the Middle Ages. Cornmeal, which acted as en extender and improved its flavor, was an addition tweaked in the New World. (By the way, whenever you read a recipe with any form of corn, you know it’s a uniquely American dish. Corn is native to North America.) Even though scrapple sounds like scraps of food—which it is—the roots of its name can be traced to a German word: Panhas. It’s served in slices, known as a Kröppel…or Panhaskröppel. And that mouthful of a word eventually shortened to scrapple.
Few people today carry a memory of scrapple, once considered to be standard breakfast food. But I do. My dad used to let Mom sleep in on Saturday mornings and fry up scrapple for us.
Dad was an impatient cook. His version of sautéing was the use of very high heat and very little time. I remember Dad’s scrapple as burned to a crisp, generously slathered in ketchup, served alongside a burnt fried egg. Wisely, he never revealed the questionable pork parts that were in scrapple. Had he done so, I would have spent breakfast giving it dreadful puns for a title, such as “Awful Offal” or “A Pig’s Long Journey.”
- 1 pound ground pork or sausage, cooked, drained and crumbled
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- 2 ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cornmeal, milk, sugar, salt and pepper.
- Gradually stir in the boiling water, cooking and stirring until thickened and bubbly.
- Reduce heat and cover pot with lid.
- Cook until very thick, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat and stir in sausage.
- Pour into a greased bread loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator.
- To serve, unmold and cut into half-inch slices. Dredge both sides with a light dusting of flour.
- In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Brown scrapple on both sides.
- Serve with ketchup, maple syrup, butter or apple butter.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of ‘The Stoney Ridge Seasons’ and ‘The Lancaster County Secrets’ series, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. She is a Christy award finalist and a Carol award winner. Her interest in the Anabaptist culture can be directly traced to her grandfather, who was raised in the Old German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne hosts the blog Amish Wisdom, and has a free downloadable app, Amish Wisdom, that delivers a daily Penn Dutch proverb to your smart phone. She lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves to hear from readers!
Purchase Suzanne’s books here.