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Enlighten Me: Delaware's love affair with scrapple

[audio:|titles= Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne and contributor Pam George discuss the First State's strong connection to scrapple]

It’s the stuff of childhood memories and greasy breakfasts, and lately, it’s also appearing in everything from eggrolls to craft beer. It’s scrapple, the much-maligned breakfast meat that’s gaining ground.

Popular in Delaware all year long, scrapple’s sales soar around the holidays. “I couldn’t keep enough scrapple in here around Thanksgiving,” said Dolly Womack, whose grandparents founded Hughes Delaware Maid Scrapple in Felton in 1933.

Rudy Kirby, president of Harrington-based Kirby & Holloway, founded in 1947 by his father, Russell Kirby, and John Holloway, said scrapple is a dish served at family holiday gatherings.

“If you moved away and can’t get it, you have to have it back in Delaware, and if you’re not from here, you have to try it. I know people who’ve said: ‘I’m back in Delaware for five days, and I’m having scrapple every single day.’”

The loaf made of offal sparks passionate devotion. Witness the popularity of the annual Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, home of RAPA Scrapple, scheduled for Oct. 9-10, 2015, and the sold-out Scrapplegasm events, part of the MidAtlantic Food + Wine Festival.

What’s in a name?

Much like white pudding in Ireland or hog’s pudding in England, scrapple includes leftover scraps. Hence the name.

The recipe was likely brought to the mid-Atlantic area by German immigrants, which is why it’s linked to Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish traditions. In agriculturally rich Sussex County, where thrifty farmers abound, scrapple became a staple.

Some get squeamish at the thought of eating scrapple. “I tell people if you eat a hotdog, you can eat scrapple,” said Daniel Harman, whose grandfather owned Hadaway Brothers, which made scrapple in Chestertown, Maryland. “It’s not made with eyeballs and hooves.”

It’s no mystery meat, thanks to a detailed list of ingredients on packages. Womack of Hughes Delaware Maid uses no pig “faces” or hog hearts. “The face has a strong flavor,” she explained. But pig snouts do appear in other local varieties, along with liver and heart.

Along with the selected organs, the amount of seasonings, fat and cornmeal or flour in a recipe can also make a difference. “I don’t like mine too dry or too greasy,” said Harman, who’s been known to taste the scrapple right out of the package to test its consistency. “Some people say if scrapple doesn’t cook in its own fat, it’s not scrapple. I don’t believe it.”

Most scrapple-lovers are brand loyal. Harman likes the scrapple made by Haas’ Family Butcher Shop in Dover. Tomi Morris of Arden is a fan of RAPA Scrapple, based in Bridgeville. Others prefer Habbersett, also made in Bridgeville by Jones Farm, the company that now owns both Habbersett and RAPA.

When one company purchases another, the brands and their recipes often remain distinct. In 2005, for instance, Kirby & Holloway purchased Milton Scrapple. “We consider it a different flavor,” Kirby said. “I vowed never to change the recipe.”

Because customers are so devoted to a brand, Lloyd’s Market in Lewes offers RAPA, Hughes and Milton. “I’m a Hughes person,” confided owner Darren Purcell.

Going against the grain

[caption id="attachment_70577" align="alignright" width="300"] scrapple makers like Kirby & Holloway are partnering with local brewers like 16 Mile to create new products.[/caption]

Like sausage, scrapple is getting some creative tweaks. RAPA offers a chile-chipotle scrapple, turkey scrapple, beef scrapple and scrapple that includes bacon. If all goes as planned, Kirby & Holloway will release Courthouse Scrapple, made with 16 Mile Brewery’s Old Court Ale, by the end of the year.

Tweaking scrapple takes time. “We went through six different variations to get the right blend,” said Claus Hagelman, 16 Mile’s director of sales and marketing. “We wanted to get the flavor of the beer in there but not so little that you couldn’t taste it.”

Finding the right balance was also key in the making of Beer for Breakfast, a variation on Dogfish Head Brewery’s Chicory Stout, which includes scrapple.

“The food folks at RAPA made us a super lean batch,” said brewery founder Sam Calagione. “We baked it first to remove the oils then added it to the mash run. It comes through in the roast umami middle-of-the-beer flavor.” Thankfully, the applewood-smoked barley dominates the aroma, which also includes milk sugar and coffee.

The limited-release beer debuted on Dec. 5 to a packed house at Dogfish Head Brewings + Eats. “It could turn a scrapple non-love into a scrapple-lover,” said Calagione, a Massachusetts native who now gets a scrapple-egg-and-cheese sandwich at Beach Deli in Lewes when he picks up his Sunday New York Times.

Upscale scrapple

Scrapple sliders and scrapple flatbread were served at Dogfish Head’s two-hour happy hour. Such noshes aren’t unusual. To promote Delmarva cuisine, chef Doug Ruley added a scrapple “chip” to garnish the deviled eggs served at the James Beard House in New York last April.

[caption id="attachment_70577" align="alignright" width="300"] Doug Ruley's deviled eggs include scrapple chip. Photo courtesy: Doug Ruley.[/caption]

Ruley is corporate chef of SoDel Concepts, which owns eight Delaware restaurants, including Papa Grande’s Coastal Taqueria, which serves a scrapple-and-egg taco with ranchero sauce and a scrapple burrito topped with a sunny-side up egg.

Harman developed a recipe for scrapple eggrolls—called Delaware Eggrolls—that he’s sold at the Dover Farmers Market and at events at Fordham Brewery in Dover. “I have people changing their mindset about scrapple, which is the whole purpose of what I’m doing,” he said.

Chefs love that scrapple is a distinctly local ingredient, which is part of the farm-to-table and sustainability movement. Calagione, who also used Fifer applewood for his beer, said it is “hyper local.” Scrapple is also an example of many chefs’ nose-to-tail approach to using as much of an animal as possible.

Cooks also love the texture. “Unctuousness is best appreciated by the interplay of crunchy and tender textures, I’ve found,” said Eric Ruth, a former restaurant critic for the News Journal. “Witness fried chicken or well-seared foie gras. Scrapple seems to capture this aesthetic in a way that is broadly appealing.”

Whether served with a fried egg or in an eggroll, the cooking method is critical. Ruth cuts the loaf into 1/4-inch slices or less and adds it to a heated pan without oil. He leaves it alone until ready to turn. Just when do you flip? It’s a matter of experience, he said. The goal: Develop a dark brown crust without overcooking. He then spreads a thin layer of ketchup on top.

While ketchup is the preferred accompaniment, some opt for maple syrup. Others like mustard. And in one informal poll, one fan said she always eats hers with ketchup and a side of toast with grape jelly.

Anyway you slice or dress it is fine by most Delawareans. As one respondent put it: “It’s grey. It’s good."