In a recent blog post about my grandparents’ 75th anniversary, I mentioned that I decided to try my hand at making scrapple. Grandpa Hess had fried some for us when I was “up home” a week or so ago. He might even have learned the recipe from his German immigrant grandparents in Pennsylvania. By now most of you are wondering what in the world it is. Scrapple is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch (which is actually German) recipe made from broth, scraps of meat, spices, and cornmeal. The ingredients are cooked, spooned into a bread loaf pan, chilled to set, sliced, and then fried to a crispy golden brown. Yum! I have always eaten homemade turkey scrapple when visiting my grandparents. It has always been a “comfort food” for me, reminding me of home and family. I didn’t know how to make it before now, so I purchased Rapa brand pork scrapple while I was in college, and then for Christmas breakfast since I’ve had my own family. But now I decided I wanted to make my own!
I knew I faced a daunting learning curve, and that I likely wouldn’t get it right the first time, especially since I wasn’t making it under the direct supervision of any scrapple experts. I had asked Grandpa for a recipe but he said he didn’t use one. He found one in a cookbook, but I forgot to copy it down. I did jot down some pointers and proportions that my mom’s cousin Priscilla Perry shared with me at the anniversary party. She uses a ratio of 3 parts liquid/meat to 1 part cornmeal and/or buckwheat. She prefers Bell’s poultry seasoning in the yellow box, along with herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme. That’s Priscilla (in the middle) and her daughter Margaret with me in the photograph. Wonderful people!
This past Saturday morning back in Florida, I roasted a turkey in my big blue porcelain roaster and set it to cool on the stovetop so I could debone it later. My husband Thad saw it there and kindly did the dirty work for me. He threw away the giblets, which I had intended to use, but who am I to complain about that after all of the service he gave? He even separated it into white and dark meat, and put the broth in a separate container. What a guy! What I didn’t use for the scrapple, I saved for two turkey pot pies and a plastic bag of white meat to put in the freezer.
Next, I pureed some of the dark meat with the broth in the blender, and dumped it into the pot with the cornmeal, a can of chicken broth, some water, and various spices. I couldn’t find the Bell’s brand of poultry seasoning, but I already had the Spice Island brand in my cupboard anyway. I also decided to use some Miracle Blend no-salt herbal seasoning, thyme, and a generous amount of rotisserie chicken seasoning. Don’t ask me how much I used of each of the ingredients, because I was adding a little here, a little there, just like Grandpa would do! I did turn out a little on the salty side, so I could have used less rotisserie chicken seasoning.
After cooking a while, the scrapple seemed a bit runny, so I chopped up more dark and white turkey and added it to the concoction. It still looked like it hadn’t thickened up enough in the pan, but I didn’t want to scorch it by cooking it more. Hoping for the best, I scooped the mixture into two foil-lined bread pans and put them in the fridge to set overnight. I was relieved the next morning to find that it had firmed up, though not as much as I would have
hoped. I asked my mom later, and she said I probably could have cooked it a little longer. Nevertheless, I guess I did it well enough, because I was able to slice and fry it. I’m always tempted to take it off the griddle too fast, but you can’t rush scrapple. It needs to cook all the way through, not just brown on the outside. Smooshing it flatter with the spatula helps the process, but most of it is just keeping an eye on it and letting it do its thing. It’s worth the wait!
My kids drooled over my scrapple and gobbled it down. Some of them drizzled syrup on it. Julia smiled and asked if this was going to be a tradition. Maybe! It’s a bit of a hassle to make, but now that I’ve done it once, it shouldn’t be so hard. After all, scrapple is more than meat and cornmeal to me. It’s about tradition, family ties, being resourceful, and learning to use my own intuition and ingenuity when someone isn’t around to show me what to do. I can’t tell you how pleased I was that I actually made good scrapple on the first try! That means an awful lot to me!
I’m not expecting that all of you will want to run out and buy a turkey to make scrapple after reading this, but maybe you will think about how you can adapt your ancestor’s traditions in your own home. Or maybe you will take a risk and try doing something new to stretch your horizons. As with most of life, you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time. Like our inventive and visionary forebears who made this country great, you do have to be willing to use trial-and-error – and then just do it!
Who knows — someday I may be teaching my own grandkids how to make turkey scrapple!
After I posted this, I received comments from some of my Hess relatives, including Priscilla Perry, who gave me the original instructions.
My aunt Nancy Allen added this information…
Good for you! Here is what Daddy told me when I asked (but I have not tried it yet): Grind up turkey, chicken or pork scraps, ~1 1/2 cups. Add 3 cups broth + seasoning – salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, sage ~ 1/2 tsp. Add about 1 cup corn meal for every 4 cups of broth/meat mix. Put in bread pan, refrigerate until solid, slice and fry. May dip in egg and flour. He always adds quite a bit of oil as he fries it, I discovered, and it of course makes a spattery mess – but it is worth it! Your cousin Judy Delbene likes it too and I think of her whenever grandpa fixes it because he did that once in FL when she and I were both there for breakfast.
Priscilla Perry sent along these additional instructions for making scrapple. They actually raise cattle (in addition to 3,500 hives of bees) so they make beef scrapple, too.
Since I don’t always measure too carefully when making scrapple, if it seems too thin after cooking I add a quick cooking cereal such as 1 or 2 minute Cream of Wheat or farina or grits. You can add this about 1/4 cup at a time and cook the required time after each addition until you get the desired consistency. I make it thick enough to hold its shape.Dipping the slices in a little flour or corn meal before frying helps them to brown and helps keep the oil from spattering. A non-stick pan helps also and uses less oil. I usually make scrapple when we butcher a beefer and I use the meatier bones to make the broth but I have made scrapple by boiling bulk sausage to make a meat broth.
Margaret Kane, who is Priscilla’s daughter, wrote this…
Virginia, I read these additional instructions Mom sent to you, and I chuckled because it was exactly what I was going to advise you to do, but I haven’t had a chance to respond until now. I don’t measure anything when I make scrapple, and I guess that’s because I learned at my mother’s elbow. 😉 The process is free-form and is entirely about achieving the right consistency. I used to make it from beef bones when I was a teenager at home, but I make it out of poultry now, or the bone from a pork roast combined with poultry. After I have cooked the bones to pieces and have removed all the inedible parts and the fat, I add various cereals to the broth. I put the slow cooking cereals in first, and save the instant thickening stuff (such as instant grits or instant cream of rice) until the end. When the stuff is thickening up and needs just a bit of fine-tuning, I start adding the instant grits until the spoon will almost stand up on its own. I pour the hot scrapple into lightly greased bread pans, then let them cool before putting them in the fridge. By the next morning they’ll unmold easily and cleanly. As for seasoning, I use Bell’s seasoning, and skip the pepper entirely. We have delicate digestive systems at our house, so we make a bland scrapple that is just as yummy as the spicier stuff, and for anyone who likes a peppery taste, the seasoning can be adjusted at the table. We use only a little oil and a nonstick pan, just like Mom. I have never tried making it with sausage–that must have been an experiment she tried when I wasn’t there to witness it. 😉 I’ll bet that would be tasty, too!
(Margaret is a home school mom in North Carolina, and I am privileged to be her friend, too! She has been so kind to our family in the past few years.)
Candy Hess (who is about my age even though she is the wife of my mom’s cousin, and who is also a very sweet friend who has gone out of her way to bless our family) wrote this…
HI to ALL from the North Carolina Hess Branch! Here in the Sunny South we eat livermush 🙂 It is delicious and very similar to the scrapple you all love so much. Scrapple is a bit spicier. We cook it the same way. Some like it fried thick and others (like myself) like it fried thin and crispy. Doug introduced me to scrapple in Pennsylvania and I really loved it. If you’re ever in the south, look for livermush and cook it the same way. Neese’s is my favorite brand. All livermushes are not equal.
Curt Bonser, the husband of my mom’s cousin Jane, wrote this:
Hello for the Oklahoma gang, Jane and Curt. Twice while traveling we have found scrapple on the menu. About five years ago we turned off I-80 on to US 322 in northern Pennsylvania. Shortly we saw a sign outside a restaurant, scrapple. It was about 9:30 in the morning and we had had breakfast at the motel not too much earlier. Guess what? We turned off the road and had a second breakfast of scrapple and coffee. Boy, what a fond memory while traveling to my 45th high school reunion. Another fond memory of eating scrapple comes from a trip in the mid 1990’s to York, Pennsylvania. for a National Kaiser Frazer meet(a defunct brand of American made cars). We drove a 1953 Kaiser from Manhattan, Kansas, our home at the time, to York. We drove out to a rural town NW of York for breakfast, and much to our delight, they had scrapple on the menu. I think we ate scrapple four times that week. I like maple syrup on my crispy fried scrapple, my mother always ate her scrapple with ketchup, ugh. Our scrapple as I grew was pork based and looked much darker than the turkey scrapple. I grew up in East Tennessee and my parents had to make our scrapple. When I was in the service, Viet Nam war, Jane and I could get scrapple at the commissary. We are a scrapple deprived couple living outside of Eastern Pennsylvania. That’s a bummer, scrapple deprived.
There you have it! Scrapple is a family tradition worth preserving!
New note on July 13: I made my third batch of scrapple this weekend. I had a 20 pound turkey, with ample broth, meat, etc. I used a lot of “scraps” that we wouldn’t otherwise eat, as well as giblets, a little bit of skin, the brown mushy stuff, broth from the boiled bones, etc. I used the blender for all of it this time since there was so much and I didn’t want my kids to recognize some of the stuff in it. I also added farina (a cooked cereal) at the end for instant thickening. In my hurry, I forgot to add any spices, but it still turned out well. And I still have 3 large bags of sliced scrapple that I froze on wax paper on a cookie sheet.
One of my boys thanked me profusely for frying some this morning, and kept patting me on the back, hugging me, and telling me what a good mommy I was. One of my teen daughters said “YAY!” when she smelled it frying as she was waking up. Everyone enjoyed it. It may be a while before I make it again, but I think it’s becoming a family tradition in our household.