Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vegetarian Scrapple

If you are from the Mid-Atlantic region, you should be familiar with Scrapple. For the uninitiated, scapple is simply leftover pork bits combined with cornmeal and seasonings. It's formed into a block and then sliced and pan fried until crispy and brown on the outside. It's delicious. But for those who did not grow up eating it, I guess it can be kind of scary. Personally, I think that if you eat sausage, you have no business being skeeved out by scrapple.

Anyway, I'm originally from Maryland and grew up eating and loving scrapple. The thing is, I became a vegetarian* about 20 years ago, so no more scrapple for me. I became a vegetarian, because I could no longer rationalize eating animals (I'm a huge sap), not because I didn't think they were tasty. So, I'm one of those vegs who is happy to try out fake meat products. I love Morning Star Farm's veggie links, patties and bacon. They are a key part of my weekend breakfasts.

I will also be the first one to tell you that it helps to have distance from the real deal to appreciate the fake versions. If you can clearly remember what bacon tasted like, then the fake stuff is so not going to cut it. (That being said, fake sausages can fly for meat eaters, because it's often about the seasonings, rather than the actual meat ingredients).

Anyway, a few years ago, the Main Squeeze got me a cookbook, Ethnic Vegetarian, for Christmas. The focus of the book is recipes (traditional and modern) from Africa, America, and the Caribbean. It's divided up into sections: African recipes, Caribbean recipes, African-American recipes, and Southern recipes. As soon as I saw the recipe for vegetarian scrapple, I was intrigued and have been meaning to make it ever since. The thing is, it's one of those recipes which you have to make a day in advance, and well, for me, that's often too much planning.

Finally, this past weekend, I decided to go for it. On Sunday, I bought the ingredients we didn't already have and then whipped it up. As I mentioned, it's been awhile since I've had scrapple, so the ingredient list did not raise any red flags--especially because you never know how separate ingredients may come together to form an entirely different whole. The ingredients for the veggie scrapple (as best as I can remember them) are: onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, black-eyed peas, corn meal, oatmeal, salt, pepper, cayenne, onion powder and vegetable stock.

Some things that should have tipped me off that this recipe was not really going to resemble the original in flavor: A) bell pepper, B) cayenne pepper, C) the fact that she recommends it as part of supper (um, scrapple is definitely a breakfast/brunch kind of food), and D) the fact that this recipe was in her Southern food section. Scrapple is not a southern food. It may be found there--I don't know, I haven't spent much time in the South--but it originated in Pennsylvania and it was created by German immigrants there. (There is debate over whether it started with Pennsylvania Dutch (Amish) or just regular German immigrants.)

The veggies and spices are sauteed until the vegetables are soft, then the beans & spices are added and cooked for five minutes, and then the other ingredients are added Finally, everything is poured into a buttered loaf pan. The scrapple is baked for 45 minutes--which gives the corn meal and oatmeal a chance to absorb the broth. You refrigerate it for four hours or overnight (I did overnight) and then slice it and pan fry it.

I'm not sure if it's because I used steel-cut, Irish style oats (rather than the traditional rolled kind)--I doubt it--but the cornmeal/oatmeal portion settled on the bottom, while the veggies were mostly on the top. The cornmeal part did have the right consistency, but the flavor was totally off. This scrapple was far too savory--the cayenne and red peppers were all wrong. I could see how the celery might blend in a different context, and if you don't have meat, then onion and garlic could be important for flavor. But yeah, this combination was never going to have that special scrapple flavor.

All in all, I'd have to rate this as a disappointment. The "scrapple" was tasty, as long as you weren't actually expecting it to taste anything like scrapple!

I may or may not try out other veggie scrapple recipes, but I am very interested to try Vrapple a vegetarian version that won second place at ScrappleFest 2009. I may just overlook the fact that it costs $10. A girl's gotta get her scrapple fix somehow.

*And by vegetarian, I mean that I sometimes eat seafood. Don't you judge me!

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