William Penn admitted Philadelphia was “a holy experiment” about the same time some of his early settlers were conducting a less-than-holy, culinary experiment. They invented scrapple, a folksy staple that, for all its native plainness and inherent modesty, has managed to hold its own for more than three centuries. Scrapple has always been completely real and entirely ours, an endearing strand in the city’s gastronomical genome. Who would argue that Philadelphia’s DNA isn’t partly scrapple?
Top that, Boston baked bean.
Nowhere else in America had a more ancient and authentic food, the “apotheosis of the pig,” claimed newspaperman Louis N. Megargee in 1901. In his column Seen and Heard, Megargee pitted the Boston baked bean and Philadelphia scrapple and found the former wanting in both character and venerability.
Originally little more than a culinary-cul-de-sac, scrapple evolved into a self-sufficient, self-deprecating, completely genuine Philadelphia meme. Earnest 19th century recipe books enshrined scrapple in literature and lexicon, but didn’t quite come to terms with the fact that, in the end, scrapple was more metaphor than meal.
William Bunn did.
“The Hon. William M. Bunn is best known as the brightest start in the constellation of orators, wits and raconteurs that illuminate the city of real Brotherly Love,” wrote James McCartney in the introduction to Bunn’s speeches and toasts of 1908. “In all the United States, there is no many on whose brow has been placed oftener the laurel wreath of adoring fame for after-dinner speaking.”
Here are excerpts from Bunn’s toast to scrapple delivered to a gathering at the Hotel Majestic, Broad Street and Girard Avenue:
What’s in a name? Usually, something—sometimes much; occasionally more— sentimentally, everything. Philadelphia, Brotherly Love, for instance. Something in that…Scrappletown and Slowtown— more in them.
Scrappletown— why, I read in a Philadelphia daily…that Philadelphia was consuming 12,000 pounds of scrapple weekly…
Incidentally, will you just ponder on the faith, the unwinking, unthinking blind faith of the thing! Scrappletown takes her scrapple on trust— just as she took her Schuylkill water on trust for so many years.
Scrappletown ! Takes its booze on trust: stands up to the gilded bar of a thousand dollar licensed saloon, calls for straight goods first time, never looks at the blend label on the bottle— takes it on faith first time. Second time, couldn’t see it if did look. Third time and so on to the limit— well you all know how it is yourselves; you’ve all been there— wouldn’t amount to much if you hadn’t in real worldly experience. And—what is worldly experience? Scrapple. What is booze? Scrapple.
Ever investigate politics? Something singular about the term. A noun of plural form that takes a verb in the singular. The verb is the only thing about it that is singular, though, in Scrappletown.
Scrappletown isn’t a village anymore…
You get politics on the house-top, in the cellar; at the legal bar, and the licensed bar; at the club, office, sociable; in hall and pulpit; in Chinatown, Little Italy, Rittenhouse Square; at weddings and funerals; in stock brokering and philanthropy; you can get into politics for nothing and come out with nothing. … You can get it raw or hashed or mulched; but in the end, both ends for that matter, it’s all—what? Scrapple!
If there’s anything in this progressive twentieth century with no mystery, no sham, no big odd nonsense about it, it should be and therefore, is society. It is a want to know, you know, society a high art, high jinks, high ball society. A horse show, dog bench, stock board society. An eloping, divorcing society—and out of doors, automobiling society. It sails the ocean blue and climbs the Matterhorn. It spells its one or more middle names in full and hyphenates its patronymics. It remembers its pedigree and forgets its prayers. It scorns those whose forefathers never distinguished themselves and envies those whose forefathers and foremothers did. It aspires to be known abroad. And it is known. … It is scorified, glorified. It is followed, courted, married and divorced— more glory. It shows itself the wide world over. It tires of monotony— goes on the stage— shows itself some more— much more. It marries some more. Not much more to be sure, but enough for glory. With the sparkle and glitter of the footlights on the stage, the rustle and glow of paper and coin in the banks there’s glory enough to be sure; but it’s all scrapple— SCRAPPLE.
Oh, but it’s all great, though. We shine for it, and pine for it; look up to it, crook down to it; adore it, implore it; chase it, embrace it. It skips everywhere, tips everywhere. It doesn’t die. It elopes to Paradise. Maybe St. Peter will need an introduction; but that’s pure speculation.
Oh it’s glorious, all glorious. But it’s all scrapple— scrapple. And isn’t it glory enough to know that this is Scrappletown; and scrapple is the real thing. No doubt but it’s a made up thing, blind, fearfully, and wonderfully made, to be sure; but Philadelphia is plucky; it makes no scrutiny into the mutiny. It takes its medicine like a little man, and asks no questions. What proves to be good for it it clings to. …It’s all mystifying, vexatious. But then it’s all scrapple.
It was in the mind of Scrappletown ‘s immortal bard when he wrote the deathless lines: This world is all a fleeting show / Since Adam ate the apple / Its smiles of Joy, its tears of woe, / Deceitful shine, deceitful flow — / There’s nothing true but — Scrapple.