BRIDGEVILLE, Del. -- It's not a food likely to be found in a nouvelle cuisine cookbook, but that's fine with scrapple makers who say they don't intend to change their winning product to suit the times.
'For those people who eat our product, it's a traditional thing. If you've got a successful product, why mess with it?' said Carl Brown, plant manager of Rapa Brand Scrapple Inc. in Bridgeville, one of the nation's largest scrapple producers.
Scrapple is made of pork, cornmeal and spices. That's the short description. The longer recipe is more colorful: pork livers, hearts, skin and jowls.
Throw in some cornmeal ground at a water-powered mill to give it body, and some spices, cook it slowly in a big stainless steel kettle, and you've got scrapple, an old-fashioned favorite of the Delaware, Maryland and southeastern Pennsylvania region.
'I eat it and I love it. I even enjoy going by the scrapple house and smelling it,' confessed Thurman Adams, a businessman and state senator from Sussex County where Rapa Scrapple is made.
'The only thing is, people don't know how to cook it,' said Adams, a distant relative of the original owners of Rapa. 'You have to know how to cook it. You've got to brown it on the outside and have it soft on the inside.'
The company, christened as an acronym of the former owners' names, Ralph and Paul Adams, began as a butchering and sausage business in 1865.
According to family tradition, Grandmother Adams mixed and sold the family's first commercial batch of scrapple one day because the family had too many hogs. The product became so popular that Rapa eventually left sausage behind and concentrated on scrapple, which generally comes in one- and two-pound blocks.
Ralph died in 1928, Paul died in 1942, and a son and a daughter carried on the business until it was sold to Jones Dairy Farms Inc. of Fort Atkinson, Wisc., in 1981.
Rapa's scrapple is shipped fresh to outlets in Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. In 1973, Rapa sold 6 million pounds of scrapple. Today, the plant produces about 20 percent more than that annually, Brown said.
In August, one of the Philadelphia area's oldest makers of the pork delicacy, Habbersett Inc., closed its plant in Media, Pa. The company name and recipe was sold to Rapa and the Habbersett formula is now mixed and cooked in Bridgeville in a separate process.
The former president, Ed Habbersett, 70, said scrapple was invented in colonial times out of a uniquely American set of circumstances.
'It was the marriage of the old world's sausage making and the New World's corn,' he said.
He said the abundance of cornmeal mills, family farms and small butcher shops gave rise to the popularity of scrapple, which is still made by numerous small-time butchers and even by many home butchers as a fall tradition.
But it is a food that never seemed to tickle taste buds in other parts of the country.
'In my lifetime, it's always centered around greater Philadelphia,' Habbersett said. 'Thirty or 40 years ago, many, many meatpackers sold millions of pounds of scrapple. It was very popular. The lean meat (from the hog) went into sausage. The skins and livers and hearts went into scrapple.'
Making scrapple takes place under the watchful eyes of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors in Rapa's plant in downtown Bridgeville.
The frozen pork parts, shipped separately in boxes from around the country, are apportioned and then cooked in large steel pots. The meat is ground and mixed together and then cooked again briefly with cornmeal and spices in another large pot.
The mixture is distributed into small plastic tubs and cooled overnight. The next day, the blocks of scrapple are wrapped in plastic, boxed and readied for same-day shipment.
Brown and other industry experts concede the market for scrapple is not what it used to be, as consumers turn to foods with less fat.
'I would have to say the market is shrinking,' said Bob Smallwood, with the Delaware Department of Agriculture. 'People are more health conscious and scrapple does have a large fat content.'
A University of Delaware nutrition expert said scrapple has less fat than most bacon and sausage, but more than the amount recommended by health experts.
One place where scrapple might catch on is Puerto Rico. Smallwood traveled to San Juan recently with some scrapple made by another Delaware firm, Milton Sausage and Scrapple Co., and found success.
'We noticed they eat a lot of pork, but no scrapple. We passed it out this year and it was just a smash hit,' Smallwood said.
Efforts are underway to begin shipping Milton scrapple to the Caribbean territory.