It is also a true American pioneer food, a relic of difficult times when the frugal Mennonites or Pennsylvania Dutch of the mid-Atlantic could not afford to waste a single scrap of meat. And long after its necessity has passed, scrapple has been preserved, like a bug in amber, in the culture of those states.
Nowhere loves scrapple more than Delaware. Every October, a beauty queen is named at the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, where festivalgoers can also eat scrapple-oyster sandwiches, carve scrapple sculptures and compete in the great scrapple chunkin' contest—essentially a shot put for meat.
All over America, you'll find distinctive foods that were created and preserved, many of which seem strange to other parts of the country. The revered Maine lobster was once a creature of necessity—shore bugs boiled for the state's prison population. Then there are the green chiles of New Mexico, which don't taste the same when grown anywhere else.
Well, summer is road-trip season, so we figured we'd take a culinary tour to all of America's 50 states. But here's the catch: We're not going to leave Portland to do it. Portland is a city of immigrants…from other parts of the U.S. So we're trying one distinctive state food each day at Portland restaurants, in the order that each state entered the union—starting here with Delaware, which became the first state when it ratified the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 7, 1787.
Follow the rest of our Fifty Plates tour of American food on wweek.com beginning July 2.
In Portland, scrapple is a refugee food. One day you'll find it at Veritable Quandary, Grain & Gristle or Tails & Trotters. The next, it's available only on outdated menus. But Laurelhurst Market's butcher case often has a peppery version at $9.95 a pound. (By comparison, you could ship a cat-foody loaf from Delaware's Rapa brand at $4 a pound). And we tracked down scrapples at two local restaurants:
The Woodsman Tavern
4537 SE Division St., 971-373-8264, woodsmantavern.com.
For a food that is essentially hard-luck German Spam, the brunchtime scrapple at the Woodsman is a remarkably civilized experience. Available only on weekends, the scrapple ($5) is served a la carte with traditional maple-syrup glaze. The fried slab is about three-quarters of an inch thick, with a crisp crust dotted with the oh-so-familiar crystals of Jacobsen salt. Within, one could see large bits of corn and green, and the spice hewed more herbal than peppery. It tasted like pâté on cornbread, except the texture was distinctly tuna fish on toast. With a side of bitter salad greens and a lovely seasonal strawberry jam on biscuits, the overall experience was a bit like the house breakfast at a fine New England B&B (though the chef's from Kansas City). Meanwhile, Division Street traffic roared by like waves hitting shore.
537 SE Ash St., 230-0463, jandmcafepdx.com.
J&M's scrapple ($9.25 with eggs, potatoes and toast; $4.65 a la carte) is less refined, more down-home. It's also a bit more like the stuff I hear described by cantankerous old men on Delaware blogs: a quarter-inch thick, crispy, salty and maple-sweet. The J&M scrapple is mystery meat's answer to kettle corn, with a subtle, lingering aftertaste that is impossible to identify or even assess. It is, as they say in basketball, what it is. The iron-tinged flavor is addictive, but also a little odd. It's essentially the gas-station whip-it of breakfast foods: When it's gone, I don't miss it, but I know that I would totally try it again.