Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Mary Rizzo


[caption id="attachment_13058" align="alignright" width="300"]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)[/caption]

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.”

[caption id="attachment_13057" align="alignright" width="575"]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)[/caption]

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.


[caption id="attachment_12479" align="alignright" width="314"]Italian Hoagie The Oxford English Dictionary says the word hoagie did not come into common usage until 1967, but within the Philadelphia region people were using the term as early as the 1930s. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

A hoagie is a sandwich made on a long Italian roll containing a variety of Italian meats and cheeses, lettuce, tomato, and onion, and dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and spices. Its exact origins are uncertain, but by the end of the twentieth century a mayoral proclamation declared the hoagie to be the “official sandwich” of Philadelphia.

Known outside of the Philadelphia region as a submarine sandwich, a grinder, or a hero, according to the Oxford English Dictionary the word hoagie did not come into common usage until 1967. However, within the region people were using the term as early as the 1930s, and it appeared in the Philadelphia City Directory for the first time in 1945. In 1950, a letter to the New York Times from a tourist to Philadelphia from Baltimore noted that the sandwich he recognized as a grinder was being referred to as a hoagie, hoggy, horgy, or hogy.

These alternative names give some clues to the hoagie’s still-mysterious origins. Some people have argued that the name derives from the Italian laborers who worked at southwest Philadelphia’s Hog Island during World War I and brought the sandwiches with them for lunch. The nickname for the laborers—hoggies—was applied to the sandwich as well. However, since the name does not appear in print until much later, this story seems unlikely. Another variation is that Italian street vendors, known as “hokey pokey” men, sold them, so that hoagie is actually a corrupted version of “hokey pokey.” The most widely accepted explanation, however, is that Al DePalma, a former musician, used the name at the sandwich shop he opened in 1936. Years before, he had seen a friend eating the large sandwich, and thought that he’d have to be a hog to finish it. DePalma called his sandwiches hoggies, but his customers pronounced them “hoagies.”

[caption id="attachment_12616" align="alignright" width="300"]Planet Hoagie in Media, Pa., is one of countless shops that hawk hoagies in Greater Philadelphia. (Photo by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia) Planet Hoagie in Media, Pa., is one of countless shops that revolve around the steady appetite for hoagies in Greater Philadelphia. (Photo by Donald D. Groff for the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Whatever the source for the name, the sandwich is a connection to the region’s Italian immigrant heritage. When large numbers of Italians immigrated to the Northeast in the early twentieth century, many were motivated to do so by the hunger and poverty of their lives in Italy. In the United States, although they were still poor, they had access to better quality food and more meat than ever before. As one Italian immigrant wrote in a letter to his brother, still in Italy, in America “il pane e’molle, ma la vita e’dura” (“the bread is soft, but life is hard”). The hoagie’s excess, with its layers of meat and cheese and its sheer size, is a result of this newfound culinary abundance.

By the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the hoagie had become representative of the Philadelphia region, eaten by all ethnicities and races. In 1992, Mayor Ed Rendell named the hoagie the Official Sandwich of Philadelphia. The convenience store chain Wawa has embraced the sandwich, and for years has sponsored a summer marketing campaign it calls hoagiefest. In 2014, the observance included an exhibit on the history of the hoagie at the National Constitution Center. Regional chain stores like Wawa and mom and pop delis and sandwich shops have helped ensure that the name remains dominant in the region.

Mary Rizzo is co-editor of The Public Historian and Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities at Rutgers University-Camden.

[caption id="attachment_12670" align="alignleft" width="575"]map of the continental united states showing use of the word for hoagie-like sandwiches. A 2003 study on regional differences in word usage found that only the Philadelphia region is a hotbed of "hoagie" usage, indicated on this map in green. Nationally, "sub" is a far more common term. (Joshua Katz, Department of Statistics, North Carolina State University, based on data from the Harvard Dialect Survey)[/caption]

South Philadelphia

[caption id="attachment_6885" align="aligncenter" width="575"]A view from the steeple of Independence Hall provides a panorama of South Philadelphia in 1850. (Library Company of Philadelphia) A view from the steeple of Independence Hall provides a panorama of South Philadelphia in 1850. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

From the film Rocky (1976) to the Italian Market, South Philadelphia’s image as an urban village has been entwined with Italian immigration. While South Philadelphia’s large Italian immigrant community marked the neighborhood in many ways, an array of ethnic, racial, and religious groups have resided in South Philadelphia since the seventeenth century, making its history the history of immigration and working-class striving in Philadelphia. Drawn here due to the availability of work, each group fought to carve out a space for itself by establishing homes, families, and social institutions in this neighborhood that stretches from South Street to the I-76 expressway and from the Delaware to the Schuylkill Rivers. 

South Philadelphia’s roots lie with Lenni Lenape Indians who utilized the Delaware shoreline as source of food. European settlement began with the New Sweden colony, centered in Delaware. The second oldest Swedish church in the U.S., Gloria Dei, now known as Old Swedes Church (Columbus Boulevard and Christian Street) was founded in 1677. After a brief period of Dutch habitation, the English settled here, with King Charles II granting William Penn a charter for Pennsylvania in 1682. When Penn began planning Philadelphia, South Philadelphia was rural farmland outside the city center. It  remained that way through the eighteenth century, made up of several separate districts including Southwark, Moyamensing, and Gray’s Ferry, names which still describe areas within the neighborhood.

As the nineteenth century progressed, the ethnic composition of South Philadelphia changed. Irish immigrants, who had been among the first settlers of Philadelphia, began to move south in the late eighteenth century, drawn by jobs like coal heaving along the banks of the Schuylkill, and they settled especially in Southwark and Moyamensing. Sharing cramped, dilapidated quarters with the Irish were free African Americans who accounted for 24 percent of Moyamensing’s residents in 1830. As nativism swept the nation, both blacks and the Irish were targets of violence in Philadelphia, spurring the black community to fight for civil rights in the mid-nineteenth century, with South Philadelphia as an important node. Octavius Catto (1839-71), one of Philadelphia’s first African American civil rights activists, migrated from the South and became a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth (Tenth and Bainbridge Streets). In addition to raising regiments of black soldiers for the Union Army in the Civil War, he, along with other activists, battled for the desegregation of the streetcar lines. Catto’s murder in 1871 after the first desegregated mayoral election made this victory bittersweet. His funeral, the largest to date in the city’s history, helped accelerate the rise of the Republican Party, which ruled Philadelphia until the mid-twentieth century.

[caption id="attachment_6882" align="alignright" width="218"]The Shot Tower stands as a remnant of South Philadelphia industry, shown here in a drawing from the 1920s. (Library Company of Philadelphia) The Shot Tower stands as a remnant of South Philadelphia industry, shown here in a drawing from the 1920s. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]


A Persistent Reputation

Even after South Philadelphia joined the larger city under the Consolidation Act of 1854, its image as an impoverished and dangerous area remained. The New York Tribune sensationally reported that the districts of Southwark and Moyamensing “swarm with these loafers, who, brave only in gangs, herd together.” Moyamensing Prison (1400 S. Tenth Street), opened in 1835, was another sign of the neighborhood’s poverty and social and literal distance from the city center. In operation until 1963, it housed everyone from a drunken Edgar Allan Poe to H.H. Holmes, the United States’ first convicted serial killer, and Samuel Roth, a smut publisher whose later obscenity conviction ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With the turn of the twentieth century, new immigration added even more complexity to South Philadelphia. Jews, for example, represented the largest foreign-born group as late as the 1920s and 1930s and helped organize several labor union headquarters and three synagogues. By creating these institutions, immigrants laid claim to the neighborhood. While race, ethnicity, and religion distinguished these groups from each other, one thing they shared was class. The working class dominated South Philadelphia, though, as in all immigrant neighborhoods, some individuals rose in status to become merchants who owned stores and other operations that catered to local needs. While ethnic enclaves dotted the landscape with pockets of homogeneity, competition among ethnic and racial groups for housing and work led to racial conflict. In July 1918, a race riot in South Philadelphia resulted in four days of white violence against blacks, leaving three people dead and hundreds seriously injured.

Although Italian immigration to Philadelphia began in the eighteenth century, it was only in the 1880s that large numbers of Italians settled here, often through the intercession of employment brokers—padrones—who brought them to the U.S. to help build the Philadelphia subway system and to work as stone cutters, masons, and fruit and vegetable sellers. Not made to feel welcome at the Irish Catholic churches, in 1852 the community established the first Italian national parish in the U.S., St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi Roman Catholic Church (712 Montrose Street). This helped cement an Italian national identity out of the regional identities held by most Italian immigrants, who at the time of their arrival considered themselves as Abruzzese or Pugliese, rather than Italian. They forged strong social ties in South Philadelphia as they founded churches, gathered in bars, and spoke their native tongues.

[caption id="attachment_6894" align="alignright" width="300"]This larger-than-life mural of Frank Rizzo looks out over the Italian Market. (Photo by the author) A larger-than-life mural of Frank Rizzo looks out over the Italian Market. (Photo by Mary Rizzo)[/caption]


Reign of Frank Rizzo

While the Italian community of South Philadelphia boasted a number of famous figures, like opera singer Mario Lanza (1921-59) perhaps the most politically influential was Police Commissioner and two-term Mayor, Frank Rizzo (1920-91). Growing up on South Rosewood Street, Rizzo capitalized on the law-and-order response that followed the urban uprisings of the late 1960s to assert community control for Philadelphia. Criticized by people of color, gays and lesbians, and progressives, Rizzo built a base of white support that included South Philadelphia but expanded beyond it by fanning fears of racial integration. For example, in 1967-68, Rizzo supported white South Philadelphians, many identifying as Italian, who pressed for closing the predominantly black Edward Bok Vocational School (1901 S. Ninth Street) because of supposed black violence against whites. However, in their response, the white group used racist language and attacked black students who attended the school, suggesting that the real goal was maintaining the whiteness of the neighborhood. Black students rallied in protest, but changes increased the percentage of white students attending Bok and helped set Rizzo on his political trajectory. 

During the 1970s and afterward, many Italians left South Philadelphia for the southern New Jersey suburbs, though even in 1980 there were still some 55,000 in Philadelphia, part of an insular ethnic community. Deeply felt ties to South Philadelphia remained, nurtured through visits to family, friends, and churches for festivals, and trips to restaurants and specialty stores. Looked at in this way, South Philadelphia’s affective borders extend far past the river. Demographic change accelerated in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, continuing the neighborhood’s tradition of being an ethnic and racial patchwork. The Italian Market reflected these changes. Originally, Irish immigrants sold produce along this stretch of Ninth Street (between Wharton and Fitzwater Streets). Italian grocers displaced them, taking ownership of the area as seen in its name and marketing. By the late twentieth century, though, the Italian Market shifted again, with Hispanic and Latino-owned businesses, like tacquerias and a tortilleria, abutting Italian specialty groceries and butchers. 

While South Philadelphia retained a distinct identity, it also forged deep ties to the region. In the early twentieth century, Italian immigrants worked as migrant laborers in the Vineland, New Jersey, fields that produced tomatoes for Campbell’s Soup, located in Camden, New Jersey. By the twenty-first century, their descendants owned the farms, which employed Mexican and Vietnamese workers to pick the produce that is sent to the large Food Distribution Center on Pattison Avenue in South Philadelphia, completing the circle. Transportation also joined South Philadelphia to the rest of the world, though the work opportunities this afforded were accompanied by serious upheaval for some. The Walt Whitman Bridge, named for Camden’s famed poet, connected South Philadelphia to New Jersey in 1957, but its construction demolished one of the poorest areas of South Philadelphia, known as “The Neck” (below Oregon Avenue, near Third Street), where residents lived a nearly rural lifestyle even though they were just a few miles from Center City. Similarly, Hog Island, once a shipbuilding facility, became the Philadelphia International Airport. Located between two rivers, residents have long counted the ports and waterways as a source of employment and large tankers and ships—some in service and some rusted to hulks—can be seen from Columbus Boulevard. The Navy Yard (4747 S. Broad Street), converted to office space, anchors the southern end of the neighborhood. 

For Sports, Go South

South Philadelphians play as well as work. From the construction of Sesquicentennial Stadium in 1926 to the Spectrum in 1967, Veterans Stadium in 1971, and Xfinity Live! (Eleventh Street and Pattison Avenue) in 2012, when residents of the region have wanted to see a baseball or football game or go to a concert, they have come to South Philadelphia. This tradition dates back to the city’s founding, as Philadelphia’s first theater, the Southwark Theater (Fourth and South Streets) opened outside the city limits in South Philadelphia to evade Quaker disapproval. In a neighborhood that has enjoyed rowdy public celebrations since the nineteenth century, the best known is the Mummer’s Day Parade on New Year’s Day, when local social clubs create ornate floats and march symbolically from South Philadelphia to the heart of Center City and back. Designated an official city celebration in 1901, the Mummer’s Parade has been controversial and only in the late twentieth century did the parade ban blackface and allow women to participate.  

[caption id="attachment_6880" align="alignright" width="300"]Passyunk Avenue, anchored by the "singing fountain" on Passyunk Square, runs diagonally through the row house neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. (J. Fusco for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation) Passyunk Avenue, anchored by the "singing fountain" on Passyunk Square, runs diagonally through the row house neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. (J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia )[/caption]

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, South Philadelphia continued to be a neighborhood of change. According to the 2010 census, more than half of the neighborhood was white, with blacks totaling approximately one-quarter of the population. Asians made up another 12 percent, with a growing Hispanic/Latino population of 8 percent. While Southeast Asian immigration began in the 1970s as the Delaware Valley welcomed refugees, it rose dramatically beginning in the 1990s. Like earlier immigrants, Southeast Asians created their own social worlds, including a vibrant commercial and cultural infrastructure along Washington Avenue that included large supermarkets, restaurants, and music and video stores. However, in a repetition of earlier examples of racially motivated conflict, in 2009 Southeast Asian students were attacked at South Philadelphia High School (2101 S. Broad Street), bringing to public attention tensions that had been simmering barely below the surface for years. This time, the conflict was primarily between black and Asian students. Student and community groups rallied through this incident to advocate for better services for immigrants, much in the way that earlier settlers fought for their civil rights.

[caption id="attachment_6895" align="alignright" width="300"]This mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico.  (Photo by the author) This mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico. (Photo by Mary Rizzo)[/caption]

A mural by the Mural Arts Project acknowledges that immigration is the connective fiber of South Philadelphia. Called “Aqui y Alla” (1515 S. Sixth Street), the mural tells the story of the neighborhood’s growing Mexican immigrant population. Indigenous youth in Mexico created pieces of the mural, which were sent to Philadelphia and completed by Mexican immigrant youth in South Philadelphia. The continued importance of the homeland pictured in this mural helps put a visual face on the activities of generations of South Philadelphians as they built businesses, created houses of worship, founded civic organizations, and celebrated together. In this city of neighborhoods, the ties that bind South Philadelphians have as often been to faraway places as they have been to the city.

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

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