UPDATE: We apologize, but due to the impending snow storm, ScrappleFest has been canceled. We are so sorry to disappoint all of our Scrapple-lovers!
Reading Terminal Market gets a lot of love for its cheesesteaks, hoagies and pretzels. But as Philadelphia's premier showcase of local food specialties, the place is also a sea of scrapple. Virtually every Market meat stand and breakfast place sells it.
This Saturday the Market celebrates or, at least, owns up to that fact during its fifth almost-every-other-year ScrappleFest. There will be music, free scrapple samples and a possibly oxymoronic in-house best scrapple dish contest. Past entries have included scrapple pretzel roll, scrapple breakfast pizza, scrapple bread pudding, scrapple sashimi, mahi mahi scrapple hushpuppies and peach Dijon-glazed turkey scrapple meatloaf.
As anyone who has lived in Philly for more than a few minutes probably knows, scrapple is Philadelphia's Spam in being an amalgam of somewhat questionable -- or at least mysterious -- pork "scraps" (along with, in the case of scrapple, grains like cornmeal and buckwheat). And it gets Spam-like giggles from a lot of people. As a result, Market scrapple sellers double as scrapple pushers and/or defenders.
Servers at the Down Home Diner let their T-shirts do the scrapple talking. "Eat more scrapple," urges the front side while the back answers the questions, "What is it?" and "Where are the scraps?" "Nowhere. The name is derived from" panhaskreppel, a Medieval English word for leftovers mixed with meat, is the T-shirts' learned -- though perhaps not sufficiently reassuring -- reply to that second question: Down Home's Jason McDavid says only about 20 percent of breakfast meat eaters at his family's diner give scrapple a try.
Three groups of people buy scrapple at Smucker's sausage stand, says owner Moses Smucker: "People who live here, people who used to live here and can't get it anymore -- they go crazy for it" and "frontiersman" i.e. people who are trying it for the first time. "You really have to acquire a taste for it," he says when asked for the newbies' reaction.
Moses speaks with pride about being among the first Philadelphia merchants to put scrapple in a breakfast sandwich but with disappointment about having to drop another Penn Dutch pork oddity -- a personal favorite called puddin' -- from his product line due to lack of sales. He says "it's like scrapple without the cornmeal," or scrapple's one sure safe ingredient, which could explain puddin's fate at Smucker's.
Fellow Frank's brand scrapplemonger Justin Hollinger of Hatville Deli says he believes scrapple is actually "growing in popularity," along with many other locally sourced foods, showing up at "trendy places like Sam's Morning Glory Diner [of Bella Vista]. Scrapple is having its moment," Hollinger concludes. While Hatville sells lots more bacon than scrapple, Hollinger says such a comparison "is not fair to scrapple," since it's mainly a breakfast food and bacon is now used in all kinds of dishes.
Interestingly, most of the Market merchants who are rising to the challenge of the ScrappleFest recipe contest do not sell scrapple. That's probably because of that challenge, making a great-tasting dish containing scrapple being much more of a test of culinary skill than making one featuring a food almost everyone likes.
This year Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe is tweaking a dish that competed in ScrappleFest 4. Based on a French Quarter New Orleans egg-and-ham concoction he once enjoyed, it consists of a pouched egg, grilled cornbread, sautéed spinach, Creole Hollandaise and scrapple he makes himself with fish as well as pork, mainly because "I didn't read the contest rules carefully enough to know I could use a packaged scrapple." Named for Beck's long-suffering wife, his Eggs St. Rita dish will be offered for sale at Beck's on ScrappleFest Saturday as well as on Mardi Gras.
Valley Shepherd Creamery, which won the recipe contest last ScrappleFest with a panzanella salad featuring scrapple in place of the traditional bread, will be defending their title with a new dish, cook and concept.
Stand chef Rebecca Foxman explained the idea behind her 2013 award-winning scrapple dish as accenting "something light and acidic with small amounts of something rich and fried" (i.e. the scrapple). This year's entry, created by stand manager Zeke Ferguson in a little intra-stand rivalry, is "the antithesis of that," Ferguson says: He'll be hollowing out squares of scrapple and filling them with Valley Shepherd's also-rich mac and cheese.
"I'm still the champion," Foxman reminds him after hearing this plan.
Ferguson will be making his dish with scrapple from Leidy's, a company that supplies a number of Reading Terminal merchants and that will be sampling pig shaped bites of its scrapple at ScrappleFest.
Asked what he would say to people who would like to try scrapple but who are feeling a little nervous/squeamish about it, Leidy's sales analyst Travis Knapp answers, "Don't read the ingredient list." After a moment, he adds, "Did you know that people in Scandinavia eat horsemeat?"
Or the scrapple wary might instead just want to try the guaranteed pork-offal-free vegan scrapple that will be sampled by South Philly's Vegan Commissary. Asked how it's made, business owner Steve Laurence says, "You know how regular scrapple is made? Well, we make ours the same way, only instead of pork, we take vegans, grind them up, add cornmeal ..."
Want to find out what it's really made of? Come to ScrappleFest!
ScrappleFest, Sat., Jan. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Center Court, free. Recipe contest judging at 2:30 p.m.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.