Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Scrapple

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A black and white drawing of a man dressed in a Quaker outfit and a pig sitting at a table with a block of scrapple in between them. The scrapple is radiating sent lines.

Scrapple is typically cut into small slices and served as a breakfast side dish, although this illustration from an 1899 dinner menu at a Pennsylvania Society meeting gives fanciful prominence to a whole loaf. (Year Book of the Pennsylvania Society of New York, 1901, via Google Books)

Scrapple, which came to the Philadelphia region from Germany, is a loaf of cooked pig parts thickened with cornmeal or buckwheat usually spiced with sage and pepper. Once cooled, the loaf is sliced, fried, and served as a breakfast side dish, often with syrup. Not just a culinary transplant, scrapple exists because of the interplay of Old and New World traditions and ingredients.

As a rural tradition during hog-butchering time, scrapple dates to the sixteenth century in Germany, where it was called panhas, pawnhos, or pan haas, meaning “pan rabbit.” While parts of the pig became sausages or bacon, the rest, “everything but the oink,” was collected for scrapple and for black or blood puddings, of which scrapple is a variant. The German product did not include cornmeal, which was not available in Europe.

German immigrants to Pennsylvania, mistakenly called Pennsylvania Dutch, shared their culture with English settlers, who had similar food traditions. The English influence can be seen in the shift in the product’s name. No longer called panhaas, except in rural communities, it became scrapple (or Philadelphia scrapple) by the 1820s—at least in print.

Origins of the Name

Different explanations have been offered for the exact origins of the name. Food historian William Woys Weaver has argued that scrapple was a conflation of the German word panhaskroppel, which literally meant slice of panhas, and the English word scrapple, which referred to leftovers and to spade-shaped kitchen implements. Others have said that English-speakers came up with the name scrapple as they conjured up images of a product made with leftovers that were otherwise suspect. In fact, scrapple was a thrifty means to make sure that every edible part of the pig was used, especially during the few days when hog butchering took place. The “scrap” in scrapple does not mean low-quality parts, but merely what had not been used in making other foods, like sausage.

By the mid-nineteenth century, production of scrapple industrialized. The Civil War increased the need for industrialized food production; at the same time, more people were living in cities and becoming less familiar with rural food traditions. In 1863, Joshua Habersett opened Habersett Pork Products in Middletown Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the first company to mass produce scrapple.

A Recipe from 1869

Cookbooks and newspapers offered home cooks advice on making the dish. Domestic Cookery, published in 1869 by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, detailed the culinary culture of Pennsylvania Germans and the Tidewater South for “young housekeepers” who had not learned these recipes at their mothers’ or grandmothers’ knees. Its scrapple recipe was a basic one: “Take eight pounds of scraps of pork that will not do for sausage; boil it in four gallons of water; when tender, chop fine, strain the liquor and pour it back into the pot; put in the meat; season it with sage, summer savory, salt and pepper to taste; stir in a quart of corn meal; after simmering a few minutes, thicken it with buckwheat flour very thick.”

A black and white photograph of a man in white clothing standing to the right of a table filled with metal containers and hog heads. Written in chalk on a wooden surface behind the containers and heads are the words "Philadel Scrapple, J. J. Felin & Co.

To meet growing scrapple demand, companies like J.J. Felin & Co. began to mass-produce thousands of pounds of scrapple each week. Here, a J. J. Felin employee stands next to hog heads (a major component of Felin’s recipe for scrapple) and metal containers filled with fresh product. (Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, via Google Books)

Various kinds of cooked and thickened loaves of pig parts can be found throughout the U.S.  In the South, liver mush denoted the addition of pig liver, while Ohioans substituted oatmeal for cornmeal and called it goetta. Scrapple, however, has retained its deep connection to the Philadelphia region. In the early twenty-first century, festivals celebrating scrapple took place in Bridgeville, Delaware, and at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. The locavore movement, which celebrates regional cuisine, showed signs of making scrapple popular again as an edible artifact of the region’s rural roots.

Mary Rizzo is the Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers University-Camden.


Copyright 2014, Rutgers University

Related Reading

Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. Baltimore: Cushings and Bailey, 1869. (Link)

Hines, Mary Anne, Gordon M. Marshall, and William Woys Weaver. The Larder Invaded: Reflections on Three Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink : A Joint Exhibition Held 17 November 1986 to 25 April 1987. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1987.

Smith, Andrew, and Bruce Kraig. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Susan J. Ellis, “Traditional Food on the Commercial Market: The History of Pennsylvania Scrapple,” Pennsylvania Folklife v. 22 (3) Spring 1973: 10-21.

Weaver, William Woys. Country Scrapple: An American Tradition. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2003.

Places to Visit

Reading Terminal Market, 51 N. Twelfth Street, Philadelphia.  

Apple Scrapple Festival, Bridgeville, Del.

4 Comments Comments

  1. Excellent article. My husband and I love scrapple. Don’t really care what is in it, just know that is good if cooked properly.

    Becky Jones Posted November 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm
  2. My parents in York County called it ponhaas. I haven’t heard that name for many years! Nice to know the history of this unique food.

    Jane Willig Posted November 19, 2014 at 1:54 pm
  3. I was raised on Scrapple. When I lived back east in Pennsylvania I had it at least twice a month. I now live in Arizona where they never heard of Scrapple.

    Donald Gary Sprouls Posted April 8, 2016 at 10:33 pm
  4. I’m enjoying your Philadelphia food essays, thank you. The November 24, 1841 Public Ledger quoted the market price for scrapple at 5-6 cents per pound, about the same as for pork. To put it in perspective, beef was selling for 8 to 9 cents per pound and butter at 20 to 25 cents per pound. The paper goes on to say that, in the fall of 1841 “Beef, Pork and Mutton are plenty, cheap and good.”

    Bob Skiba Posted August 11, 2016 at 12:07 pm

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