This time, we’re going to visit the farm country of Pennsylvania, settled by German-speaking immigrants who formed a fairly cohesive community starting in the 1680s, as war convulsed their homeland. They comprised almost half of Pennsylvania’s population, and were supportive of the American Revolution, volunteering to serve in numbers even greater than the Congress asked for[i].
The food they enjoyed was well-matched to their hardworking lifestyle, and is better enjoyed in our gentler age as a rare treat. Even so, they were noted at the time for being “remarkably stout and hardy men,”[ii] with above-average height likely stemming from their excellent nutrition in the relative wealth of the American Colonies.
We’ll be making two dishes – scrapple and shoo-fly pie – that are today closely identified with the Pennsylvania Dutch, although they may not yet have existed during the Revolutionary era. As William Woys Weaver notes in his delightful book Country Scrapple, “Recipes for scrapple are only useful to people who have not grown up on a farm where they would have seen it made firsthand.”[iii]
The earliest known recipe for scrapple was printed in 1856[iv], a full eighty years after the Declaration of Independence, yet it seems safe to say that the method outlined is probably not much changed in that time:
Other recipes (none printed until the 19th century, alas!) refer to scrapple as usually being prepared from a “small hog’s head,”[v] and note that it may also be prepared with an addition of pig’s blood and liver to make it more nourishing. These additions also hearken back to scrapple’s earlier roots, as a medieval pot pudding in Westphalia and northern Holland[vi].
However, blood had other commercial uses in the Colonies, and liver is often eaten on its own, not needing to be incorporated into another dish to be palatable. Scrapple is, in many ways, the bologna of its time, and is closely akin to modern-day sausage in its use as a means of ensuring that we waste as little as possible, eating “everything but the oink” of a slaughtered pig.
I’ll provide two different approaches to scrapple, one that attempts to stay as close as possible to the origins of the dish, and another that is significantly easier and less labor-intensive. Note: both recipes require that you prepare the scrapple the night before, so plan accordingly.
Place in a large cast-iron pot:
3 lbs(1.5 kg) pork neck bones, unsmoked ham hocks, or other fresh pork bones
Simmer over very low heat for two or three hours, until the meat falls off the bones.
Remove the meat from the broth and set it aside to cool. Skim the fat and foam off of the broth, and measure out four cups, reserving the remainder for future use. Pull the meat off the bones and mince or grind it.
Return it to the broth, bring the mixture to the boil and add:
3 tsp (15 ml) rubbed sage
1 tsp (5 ml) black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
Add slowly, stirring constantly with a whisk:
1 1/4 cups(275 ml) cornmeal
Continue stirring as it thickens. Remove from heat and spoon into small loaf pans lined with waxed paper.
To serve, remove the scrapple from the molds, and remove the waxed paper. Slice it into 1/2″ (1 cm) thick portions, dip in flour, and fry in a little bacon grease or butter, browning both sides.
Serve warm, either with syrup (for breakfast) or with pepper relish or Tabasco (as dinner).
If you can’t find pork necks, or don’t want to go through the fussy, messy work of picking the meat off the bones, you can still make a version of this old dish, without any exotic ingredients. The flavor isn’t quite as authentic to my palate, but it’s still a treat!
Bring to a boil:
3 3/4 c (650 ml) water or pork broth
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1 lb (450 g) pork breakfast sausage (loose, not links or patties)
Make sure that the sausage breaks apart thoroughly, and once it’s cooked through, and the mixture is boiling briskly, slowly stir in:
1 cup (225 ml) cornmeal
Proceed as above, thickening, molding and serving as described.
Ragoo of Cauliflower
As we’re having the scrapple as a dinner meal, present-day sensibilities strongly suggest that we ought to have a vegetable with it. The inestimable Hannah Glasse provides a couple of different preparations for cauliflower, and the one reproduced below[vii] seems to be a fitting accompaniment to this meal.
Rinse in water and then cut into bite-sized pieces:
1 large head of cauliflower
In a large saucepan, melt together:
1/2 cup (225 ml) butter
2 tbsp (30 ml) water
Put the cauliflower in the butter mixture and toss to mix well. Sautée over low heat, shaking it periodically to ensure that all of the pieces cook evenly.
Once the cauliflower is tender, remove a few florets to use as garnish, then add:
2 tbsp (30 ml) flour
1/2 tsp (2 ml) black pepper
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
Toss to coat thoroughly, and then add:
1 cup chicken gravy
Continue to cook until the cauliflower is falling apart, and then serve, garnished with the reserved florets.
As briefly mentioned above, this is another recipe that’s closely associated with the old-style cooking of the Pennsylvania Dutch, but one which does not appear in the historical record until much later. It’s derived from the British treacle pie and later molasses cakes, but in his new book, As American as Shoofly Pie, William Woys Warner writes definitively, “Marketing claims notwithstanding: shoofly pie did not exist before the Civil War.”[viii]
Nonetheless, we’ll include it in this dish simply on the strength of its evocative place in Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. This version of the pie is the one I grew up with, and is a transcription of a much-stained recipe card written in my grandmother’s hand. She had gotten the recipe from my great-grandmother, after marrying into the family with no experience of the dish herself. As a newlywed, when she asked her new mother-in-law how to make this childhood favorite of her husband’s, she was told to “just pour molasses in a pie shell.”
The resulting mess must have convinced someone to give her a more detailed recipe, which will still sometimes boil over in the oven – so it’s wise to put a pan or foil under it to make cleanup a bit easier.
Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C). Prepare an unbaked pie shell. Blend together:
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) flour
1 cup (225 ml) sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
Cut in with pastry blender, or mix in a food processor, to make coarse crumbs:
1/4 cup (50 ml) butter
1/4 cup (50 ml) lard (substitute butter if you prefer)
Mix in a separate bowl:
1 cup (225 ml) boiling water
1 cup (225 ml) rich molasses
1 tbsp (15 ml) vinegar
Beat into mixture, prepared for bubbling and foaming:
1/2 tsp (3 ml) baking soda
Pour the molasses mixture into the pie shell.
Spread the crumb topping over the molasses, forming a smooth surface of flour mixture floating on top of the liquid.
Carefully place in the oven and bake for about an hour, until a knife comes out clean, or at least close to clean. Serve cooled, in small wedges – this is a rich and strongly-flavored pie!
[iii] Weaver, William Woys. Country Scrapple. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2003. 33. Print.
[viii] Weaver, William Woys. As American as Shoofly Pie. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 256. Print.