Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Scrapple: The Other White Meat

After watching Super-size Me! a couple of years ago and reading Fast Food Nation at about the same time, we earnestly tried to remove McDonald's and its competitors from our family's list of dining choices. We've done a pretty good job, limiting ourselves to only a handful of family visit each year. Occasionally we'll break down and agree to a trip through the Golden Arches as a treat for the boys . . . or we'll be out in suburbia and have no other options. The other day we stopped by McDonald's after the boys' fall baseball afterschool activity. It was late and we were in a generous mood. An old fan of Big Mac's, I was indulgent and ordered one. It tasted great, particularly the tangy essence of the "special sauce" (mere Thousand Island dressing). But within an hour my intestines were tied in knots like my kids' double-knotted sneakers and I was longing for the couch and some Tums.

Hearing about my gastrointestinal agony, a friend offered a finger-wagging remonstrance and admonished me about the cartilage, fecal matter, and "god knows what else" that might be in the burgers. What one forgets, however, is that being from the South, I'm hard-wired to have an affinity for highly processed meat products. Bacon, for example, is the most perfect food in the world. I could eat bacon every day if my conscience - and arteries - would let me. Sausage, country ham, pork shoulder, pork chops, pork bbq, pulled pork sandwiches, and pork tenderloin are all delicacies on par with the richest foie gras or caviar.

I should note here that having grown up just minutes from Smithfield, Virginia, site of Gwaltney's main processing plants, I was doubly inclined to avail myself of the world's porcine delicacies. Driving along Route 10 near Smithfield one couldn't avoid encountering the truckloads of hogs, destined for the abattoirs of the Gwaltney corporation. An old friend, himself an enthusiastic connoisseur of bacon, would regularly drive the Route 10 bypass to avoid passing near the plants. One time I asked him why, thinking that it might be the pervasive smell of slaughtered pigs which prompted his reluctance. "No," he replied, "It's not the smell. I just want to keep thinking that bacon comes from a happy, magical place." Fair enough. I guess it would be nice to believe the fantasy that bacon was like manna from heaven, without the reality of freshly gutted oinkers traveling from the kill floor to the "disassembly" plant.

Indeed, I do love pig. But I draw the line on some pork products, like scrapple, pictured at left and below. A friend who visited the South back in the summer encountered fried scrapple on a breakfast menu at a diner. He asked me, "What's in scrapple?" My reply: "Everything but the squeal." (The reality of scrapple is this, taken from a typical store-bought package: pork skins, pork livers, pork tongues, pork hearts, corn meal, salt, spices.) Blanching, he was glad he hadn't tried it, along with a few other southern delicacies that one encounters in bars, "juke joints," and cinderblock convenience stores: pickled eggs, pickled pigs' feet, scrambled pig brains, deep-fried chicken's feet, pork cracklins (essentially deep fried pieces of pig fat), pig ears, and smoked pig tongues. Neither I nor my parents ever sampled these piggy treats. However, my grandmother still enjoys a scrapple sandwich for lunch, while my dad's younger brother and his wife swear by fried scrapple sandwiches for breakfast fare.

Of course, the South doesn't possess a monopoly on utilizing every part of its slaughtered animals, as I've witnessed during trips to some of the City's more traditional butchers. Ottomanelli's has the largest beef tongues I've ever seen proudly displayed in its windows. Faicco's, the West Village's famous Italian market and "pork store," has hearty displays of tripe and various organ meats in its cases. But there's something to be said for pulling up to a low, cinderblock building in your F-100, walking in past the Miller Lite neon, through the pool tables to the bar, and asking for a pickled pig's foot from the big jar on the counter. Add a cold Meisterbrau or Milwaukee's Best to your order and you've just tossed your testosterone on the table for all to see, without having to pull out an NRA card or brag about the new NASCAR-themed La-Z-Boy now sitting proudly in your double-wide.


BooCat said...

Dear BrianC, In this part of the South, we think of scrapple as more of a northern Appalachian invention, as in Pennsylvania, for example. It sounds pretty much like what my grandparents called souse meat and what I thought of, growing up, as only if it were the last food left on the face of the earth and then only if someone held a gun on me. My elders ate all of that stuff and more besides, including brains and eggs (scrambled together) and pickled pigs feet, but they drew the line at chitlins.

BrianC said...

Yes, I've heard my grandmother refer to scrapple as "souse" as well. Have heard of the eggs/brains combo. As much as I like eggs, that still wouldn't convince me to eat them with brains. (shudder) I'll eat a lot of stuff, but the feet and various organs just won't make it onto my menu.

One Wink at a Time said...

Brian, I think this post is an example of some of your best writing to date. It should be published. You amaze me on a regular basis.
As a side note, I LOVE scrapple and it's been way too long since I've had some. PD will not agree to trying it, so I don't make it. But now you got me hungry for some...
Also, Big Macs are manna from the gods. But alas, my tummy disagrees. Wholeheartedly.