Yes, Please: ScrappleFest 2009
I love scrapple, and I always have. So, when I found out that there was going to be a ScrappleFest down at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia last weekend, attendance became an absolute imperative.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with scrapple, Wikipedia defines it as “a savory mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour”, which is pretty much a spot-on description. Cut into slices and fried until crisp (but with the inside still soft), scrapple tastes, to me, a bit like breakfast sausage. To my wife, who hates scrapple, it tastes like barn. There is no middle ground when it comes to scrapple – either you absolutely love it or you can’t stand it.
A little more background exposition, for those readers who aren’t familiar with Philadelphia – the Reading Terminal Market is a large hall filled with a dizzying array of food vendors, produce stalls, fishmongers, and butchers. Chances are, if you’re craving a particular food, you’ll find it there. At the height of the weekend during tourist season, there’s barely enough room to move through the crowds that pack the aisles, either gawking at menus or waiting in overflowing lines to place an order. Seating, as can be expected, is always an issue, and finding an open table feels like finding a parking spot at the mall during the holiday shopping season.
ScrappleFest took place in the middle of it all, in a central court that, I believe, is usually taken up by that all-important seating that I mentioned. Thankfully, since we’re still in the off-season, the Reading Terminal Market was well-populated, but not too crowded, so the reduction in tables and chairs was hardly noticeable. Imagine a large rectangle of scrapple vendors, and a line of scrapple enthusiasts performing a slow, rotating tour of all of them, and you’ve gotten the gist of Scrapplefest. There was a recipe contest, as well, pitting various creative interpretations of scrapple against one another, but in all of the time that we spent there, I never saw where the contest was being held. It’s a shame, since I would have wanted to see that, but the charm of ScrappleFest lies in the fact that it’s not well publicized, not slickly marketed, and it doesn’t have a dedicated website. You kind of just show up and eat scrapple.
All of the major pork product producers were at ScrappleFest, such as Dietz & Watson and Leidy’s, as well as smaller companies and family-owned operations. At each station, there would be one or two staffers dutifully frying up the signature slabs on portable electric griddles, or frying pans set over hotplates, and a tray of samples from which to pick from as you walked by. There was even an offering of vegan scrapple, which I can at least now say that I have tried. I must admit that the turkey scrapple was better than I would have expected.
Oh, and no writeup of ScrappleFest is complete without a mention of the scrapple sculptures. There was a Phillies cake made out of scrapple – while the shout-out to the local World Series champions was certainly appreciated, in all other respects the cake was merely a large rectangle of porkiness. But, the true awesomeness of scrapple artistry came from Leidy’s, whose table featured a small Leidy’s delivery truck, manifest as scrapple, with little cherries for lights, slowing bleeding crimson rivulets down the porky contours of the sculpture.