What’s the difference between scrapple, goetta, and livermush?

by Jason Cohen, Sep 1, 2015, 12:30p

Illustrations by Rose Wong

They write books about scrapple. Well, at least one: William Woys Weaver’s loving and authoritative 2003 history/cookbook, Country Scrapple. Search the term on Amazon and you will also find two 99-cent e-books: Sharon Love’s How to Cook Scrapple and Twenty Ways to Enjoy It, and Rory Anderson’s Scrapple: A Breakfast of Horrors. The latter is no offal-phobic rant, but rather, a Misery-meets-Soylent Green short story set in Pennsylvania Dutch country (you can probably guess how it ends).

Among people who like food, such scrapple-shaming is both off the mark and out of fashion. Scrapple may not be on the menu of every diner or coffee shop outside of Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, but in this age of whole-animal butchers, charcuterie, and high/low fusion cooking, it’s pretty easy to find in brunchy cafes and and meat-centric restaurants all around the country. Last year, the “scrapple waffle” at Ivan Ramen’s Lower East Side noodle shop prompted Eater NY’s Robert Sietsema to declare it “one of the city’s best dishes of the year.”

All of these things are a type of scrapple, but scrapple is not all of these things.

As with so many delicious meats, scrapple’s existence came out of necessity: to use up every bit of meat, including the leftover broth from butchering and cooking a whole pig. If you wanted to re-brand scrapple as “bone-broth loaf,” you could. Grains — traditionally buckwheat and cornmeal — are added to both extend the meat and thicken up the gruel, which, after hours and hours of stovetop cooking, is poured into loaf pans, refrigerated, and then sliced and fried for crispy (but also mushy) delicious eating. Yes, there’s offal involved, but not exclusively — as Weaver notes in his book, there’s no more ground-up mystery protein in scrapple than in your average big-box store hamburger patty.

The scrapple universe is large. In Cincinnati (and Northern Kentucky) there’s goetta, made with oats instead of cornmeal. In the Carolinas, there’s livermush (and liver pudding). Basically, if there are people of German descent (the “Dutch” in “Pennsylvania Dutch” is said to be an Anglicization of “deutsch”) some pigs, and grain, you’re going to find a loaf that mixes up the two. The trend also extends to other cultures, and to sausage: Cajun and French boudin, English black pudding, and Scottish haggis are all scrapple kin.

The etymology of the term scrapple is complex, varied and debated. The short version: It either definitely is or definitely isn’t related to the German word for “scraps.” But these days, “scrapple” is used generically, almost like “hash.” Which is to say, all of these things are a type of scrapple, but scrapple is not all of these things. Below, a guide to the three dominant scrapple food groups:

 

Scrapple

Let’s go right to the ingredients label of the late Josh Ozersky’s favorite, Habbersett Scrapple (a Pennsylvania classic since 1863, though the company has been Wisconsin-owned since 1985): It features pork stock, pork, pork skins, cornmeal, wheat flour, pork hearts, pork livers, pork tongues, salt, and spices. “Spices” can include garlic, onion, and various dry seasonings; New York’s Meat Hook butcher shop uses black and white pepper, clove, allspice, coriander, nutmeg, sage, marjoram, and chili powder.

Meat Hook also uses rye flour as well as buckwheat and cornmeal. The combination of buckwheat and cornmeal is the most traditional scrapple formula. Scrapple’s German progenitor Panhas (or panaas) was and still is made only with buckwheat, which has more texture, flavor, and nutrition than wheat flour. Both Habbersett and Rapa (another big, old scrapple brand now owned by Wisconsin’s Jones Sausage, the same company that owns Habbersett) use only cornmeal and wheat flour. Another one of the most widely-distributed labels, Hatfield, uses both of those, but buckwheat, too.

Even though Woys Weaver prefers buckwheat scrapple, and does not eat personally eat mass-produced scrapple, he’s also no purist. “Traditionalists were already complaining in the late 1860s that industrial scrapple was the ruin of the product, so these controversies over ingredients are not new,” Weaver said in an email.

Scrapple is best eaten just like any other breakfast meat. Scrapple-eaters were putting an egg on it long before the phrase existed, but ketchup, jelly, apple sauce, or various traditional relishes (Weaver has recipes for several in his book) are also common. And, inevitably, you can also put scrapple on a burger. The Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware does just that, and has also made a scrapple beer.

Where to get it: Traditional

‣ Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia: If you can’t actually road-trip out among the buggies in Pennsylvania Dutch country, you can get both a literal and figurative taste of the experience in Center City. Buy some scrapple to take home, or order it at several spots within the market (including the Down Home Diner and Dutch Eating Place).

Are there competing festivals?

Of course. The biggest is October’s Apple Scrapple festival, in Bridgeville, Delaware (home of Rapa). It mostly celebrates the two regional foods discretely, though there is a such thing as scrapple with apples in it. The first night’s high point is undoubtedly the Little Miss Apple Scrapple pageant.

Also in Delaware, the Mid-Atlantic Wine and Food festival has a now-annual Scrapplegasm dinner, a high-end three-course meal. This past year’s menu was veal cheek scrapple, venison-jalapeno scrapple and dessert scrapple. And the Reading Terminal Market puts on ScrappleFest Philadelphia every two years, with the next one scheduled for November 7.

‣ Little Pete’s, Philadelphia: This was Eater Philly’s pick as the best place to eat one of the city’s iconic dishes, for understandably sentimental reasons: The Rittenhouse-area location of the 24-hour coffee shop will soon make way for a boutique hotel. But any favorite greasy spoon will do.
Dietrich’s Meats & Country Store, Krumsville, PA (Google Maps will say Lenhartsville): A mere 90 minutes down I-78 from Manhattan, go for the scrapple — but stay for the myriad hams, sausages, and bolognas.

Where to get it: Haute

‣ Ivan Ramen, New York City: The Lower East Side ramen shop’s “scrapple waffle” is perhaps the most feted (and Instagrammed) scrapple product ever. It’s officially called the “Lancaster Okonomiyaki,” as it’s also Ivan Orkin’s riff on savory Japanese pancakes (except it’s a waffle). The dish — scrapple (with buckwheat, cornmeal, pork shoulders, and chicken livers and hearts), pickled apple, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, scallions, maple-Kewpie mayo, and bulldog sauce — is not currently on the menu (instead, there’s Pork Roll ramen), but is likely to return.
Bing Bing Dim Sum, Philadelphia: What could be more logical than Jewish/Chinese fusion, even when a pig’s involved? This South Philly hotspot uses scrapple instead of pork belly in its “Pac-Man” bun, which also includes pickled cucumber, sauce, and a fried quail egg.
‣ Belcampo Meat Company, Los Angeles: The downtown Los Angeles location of this butcher shop and restaurant uses beef, pork, and lamb trimmings (including, as Los Angeles mag noted last year, good stuff like ribeye) in a house-made scrapple.
‣ Laurelhurst Market, Portland: The retail meat case at this Portland steakhouse reliably includes a cornmeal-heavy, pig-face-festooned scrapple.

 

Livermush

The Southern version of scrapple has its origin in the Great Wagon Road migration, which brought Pennsylvania Dutch farmers down to the other end of Appalachia. North Carolina food writer and TV personality Bob Garner has joked that those immigrants “took scrapple and just by naming it livermush made it less appealing,” but he’s actually a fierce defender against Pennsylvanians who claim that it’s just a scrapple knock-off.

Livermush is all pork, with cornmeal as the only grain — which seems suitably Southern. Needless to say, the inclusion of pork liver is mandatory, whereas scrapple may or may not have it, and in no particular quantity.There’s also liver pudding, which, depending who you ask, is either totally different from livermush or exactly the same, except for where it’s served (livermush in Western North Carolina, liver pudding to the east. But if you’re close to South Carolina, you’re gonna get rice instead of cornmeal). Paradoxically, liver pudding might be mushier, whereas liver mush is more likely to be sliced and fried crisp like its northern and midwestern cousins.

“Livermush and liver pudding are big subjects around here. Almost as controversial as barbecue.”

It’s possible that North Carolinians are more passionate than Pennsylvanians or Ohioans. Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis recently told the Athens Banner-Herald, “Livermush and liver pudding are big subjects around here. Almost as controversial as barbecue.”

Livermush and liver pudding are also eaten in cold sandwiches more often than scrapple or goetta, which sounds dubious, but is really no weirder than eating liverwurst. And livermush and grits is also classic North Carolina jail food, which surely beats the heck out of moldy bologna on white bread.

Are there competing festivals?

Naturally. Where else would you get deep-fried livermush-on-a-stick? By order of North Carolina Assembly statute 145‑39, enacted in 2012, there is “an official fall livermush festival of the State of North Carolina, and an official spring livermush festival of the State of North Carolina.”

In June (that would still be spring), visitors to Asheville can head 40 miles east to Marion for the Marion Livermush Festival, where they’ll find all the Hunter’s they can eat. Come October, Cleveland County’s livermush takes over for the Mush, Music, and Mutts festival in Shelby, which — as if pork products, bluegrass, and dogs weren’t enough — also includes the Little Miss Livermush pageant.

Where to get it: Traditional

Mack’s Liver Mush and Meat Company and Jenkins Food, Shelby, NC; Hunter’s Liver Mush, Marion, NC: Three of the state’s best-known livermush producers, in the state’s two livermush capitals. Order up some almost anywhere in either town.
Neese’s Country Sausage, Greensboro, NC: Available through mail-order and in supermarkets, though the Neese family can also be found each fall at the North Carolina State Fair. They make both livermush and liver pudding, as well as a carpetbagging “Country Scrapple.”
Mr. Waffle, Gaffney, SC: Waffle House may be the region’s 24-hour breakfast king, but the Georgia company serves no livermush, not even in the Carolinas. Mr. Waffle, which was once a truck stop mini-chain, fills that void.
Windy City Grill, Hickory, NC: A favorite of Bob Garner’s, this small-town restaurant serves only sandwiches and hot dogs, with livermush available in any combination you might like (eggs, lettuce-and-mayo, jelly) for both breakfast and lunch.

Where to get it: Haute

Sushi Dojo, Shelby, NC: Naturally, if you are a sushi restaurant in a livermush capital, livermush is in your sushi. Currently on the menu: the “Hee-Haw Roll” (cue Roy Clark and Buck Owens), with livermush, cream cheese, and crab, “tempured” [sic]. Don’t even try to pretend it’s one of the 10 silliest sushi rolls in America.
Heirloom, Charlotte, NC: Charlotte chef Clark Barlowe grew up eating livermush on a biscuit with mustard; he makes his own now, based on his great-grandmother’s recipe. Among the applications in the restaurant: toad in the hole.
Artisan Meat Share, Charleston: Cypress and AMS executive chef Craig Deihl is something of a ringer: He’s from Danville, Pennsylvania. As such, his butcher shop serves scrapple, as well as livermush, and a South Carolina-style liver pudding: rice and pork stuffed into hog casings, flavored only with salt and pepper.

 

Goetta

Goetta traces its roots to a different set of German immigrants — who settled in Ohio — and sets itself apart from scapple in two ways: pinhead oats (more commonly known as steel-cut), and the possible inclusion of beef.

It is most commonly found in the breakfast sausage-style roll made by Glier’s Goetta (the official goetta of the Cincinnati Bengals), but the principle is the same (cut off a slice and fry up crisp), and most smaller butchers around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky make it loaf-style. Glier’s uses pork hearts and pork skin (as well as MSG), both of which provide taste and texture, but many smaller butchers don’t bother with offal at all, making it with 100 percent pork shoulder and beef chuck. That makes goetta, in theory, an easier “entry-level” food than scrapple.

Personal opinion: Whereas scrapple has to compete with roast pork sandwiches and cheesesteaks for Philadelphia food supremacy, goetta is far superior to Cincinnati chili. Goetta hot dogs and goetta burgers exist, as does goetta pizza. A now-shuttered Cincinnati bakery once made a goetta-apricot danish.

Where to get it: Traditional

Tucker’s, Cincinnati: Over-the-Rhine’s greasy-spoon-idyll of integration unites both the city’s African-American and white communities as well as working-class heartiness and crunchy hippie food. Which means you can balance out that order of goetta with veggie chili or polenta. (Note: The restaurant is currently closed due to a kitchen fire.)
‣ Colonial Cottage, Erlanger, KY: One of Glier’s biggest wholesale accounts, Colonial Cottage has an entire goetta section on its menu, including a goetta burger, goetta reuben, and a goetta wrap. But if it’s after 9 p.m., head to the Anchor Grill in Covington, an open-24-hours time-warp.
Findlay Market, Cincinnati: Just a few blocks from Tucker’s, you can pick up goetta to cook at home from Eckerlin Meats, Kroeger & Sons Meats, and Gramma Debbie’s Kitchen, which also has a vegan version.

Are there competing festivals?

Clearly a rhetorical question. Goettafest, begun in 2001 and put on by Glier’s, just went down in August at Newport on the Levee in Kentucky. One town over in Covington, Mainstrasse Village held its 15th-annual “Original Goettafest” in June, with all goetta provided by J.B.’s Barbecue.

Both festivals feature thoroughly unnecessary goetta usages, such as goetta Shepherd’s Pie, four-cheese goetta mac, goetta fish tacos, and, at Goettafest, goetta pizza from Papa John’s. But this year, Glier’s also used Goettafest to introduce its bacon goetta, which seems like a completely legitimate expression of both foodstuffs. Neither festival has a Little Miss Pork-and-Oats contest.

Where to get it: Haute

Senate, Cincinnati: The Queen City’s encased-meats gastropub has the “Goetta Superstar” as one of its occasional hot dogs of the day: crispy goetta with country gravy, arugula, and poached egg on a brioche bun (in a surprising show of restraint, there’s no additional pork product underneath that stuff).
Maribelle’s Eat and Drink, Cincinnati: If you were in Cincinnati for this past July’s baseball All-Star Game, when a handful of local restaurants rolled out goetta specials, you got to try Maribelle’s “Ohio Hot Brown,” featuring housemade head-and-trotter goetta, cherry tomatoes, maple-whipped fromage blanc, crispy chicken skin, and shaved turnip. The rest of us will have to settle for the usual brunch menu, which has goetta available as a side, or on a challah roll with bechamel and egg.
The Hay Merchant, Houston: Brunch at the second restaurant from 2014 James Beard award-winner Chris Shepherd (Underbelly) features a “Cincinnati ‘pork terrine’ classic with fried green tomatoes, Redneck cheddar sauce… and a fried egg.”
Simpatica, Portland: Goetta has been known to turn up on the Sunday brunch menu at Simpatica (which has the same owners as the scrapple-happy Laurelhurst Market).

 

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