(Blog includes a video) A newspaper column about this topic appeared in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Link here.
Scrape Those Deer Bones & Make Scrapple
Scrapple - even the name summons up images of something likely less than satisfying or enjoyable from a dining standpoint. When I first saw scrapple, I immediately thought of Spam. Like Spam, scrapple is formed into a loaf and the exact ingredients might be a bit of a mystery -- that is, until you read the label listing the ingredients. Commercial pork scrapple is made from a heaping helping of pig offal, with meats and materials from the hog’s head, heart, liver, tongue and, possibly, some other internal organs. Scrapple has been a traditional food in Mid-Atlantic states for centuries, with origins believed to trace back to German black puddings made with blood and pork parts. American scrapple isn't made with blood, at least not that I've heard. Instead, cornmeal, buckwheat or some other flour thickener is used in the mix. Sage and pepper are common seasonings.
Scrapple recipes can be as diverse as regional and individual tastes, but they all share a common attribute: the finished product is a cooked mush that is poured and shaped into a loaf. It's usually eaten at breakfast. You just slice a piece about 1/2-inch or so from the loaf and fry it, crisping it on both sides and keeping it soft in the center.
Preston Thompson of Essex County, Virginia, is "Old School" when it comes to using as much of any animal he plans on eating, whether it be wild or domestic. He butchers a couple big hogs every year and makes his own bacon, fatback, hams and more, including a somewhat traditional scrapple..
A small building just down the hill from Thompson’s house on his Essex County farm is his creative
nerve center. Sometimes it’s a workshop for crafting and painting award-winning waterfowl decoys. Other times, it’s a laboratory for making homemade wines, jellies and jams from just about every edible fruit and berry growing in the Virginia wild. During deer season, though, it’s a regular venison production line as he and his family and friends labor to break down deer into steaks, roasts, burger sausage and scrapple. When it comes to making deer scrapple, though, Thompson eschews the offal and instead focuses on the meat that often adheres to the bones after the main cuts of venison steaks and roasts have been cut from the carcass. This is the perfectly edible meat that too many hunters and deer processors discard.
“I don’t like to waste any part of that deer that you can eat,” Thompson said. “There’s still a lot of meat on those necks, ribs and legs after you’ve boned out the bigger pieces of meat.”
Thompson, now in his early 70s, knows what it means to hunt and fish for food. Squirrels, rabbits, fish, crabs and oysters were routine fare in his upbringing not far from the Potomac River. Making and eating scrapple has been a family tradition across many decades.
Here is how he does it. After processing the deer, place all bones (except for bones that have central nervous system tissue - such as vertebrae, skull, etc) in a large pot with water and cook it down for a few hours, reducing the volume of liquid and concentrating flavors in this broth you are making. Thompson calls this broth “the juice” and he retains it for the scrapple. After cooling the juice to allow any fat to congeal and float to the surface, he strains it. “See that brown stuff in the bottom. That’s good stuff, from the marrow,” he said as the bucket emptied.
The cooked meat should readily come off the bone. Remove the meat from the bones and separate any sinew or inedible parts that remain. After picking and sorting, run it through a grinder to achieve a smooth consistency.
4 1/2 pounds of ground cooked deer meat
1 1/2 gallons of meat liquid
8 beef bouillon cubes
4 ounces ground sage
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons black pepper
1 Tablespoon red pepper
3 Tablespoons salt
2 1/2 pounds white cornmeal
(This yields about 15+ pounds of mixture)
Line five loaf pans with flexible plastic wrap. Add all ingredients except cornmeal in a deep cooking pot, bringing it to a rolling boil while stirring constantly. The mixture will take on an almost slurry like appearance. Then, sprinkle in cornmeal while stirring continuously -- your arms will get a workout making this dish. Thompson says this part of the process, whisking in 2.5 pounds of white cornmeal, is the most dangerous. "You have to watch it. This stuff will blow up on you,” he said. Indeed, the concoction will bubble and belch lava-like streams of scrapple toward the top of the large pot. Protect your hands and arms or have some cat-like reflexes. Keep whisking until you're satisfied the mix is cooked enough and any big lumps of cornmeal have been sufficiently broken down and incorporated. The next step involves pouring the still warm mixture into the loaf pans. After it’s refrigerated for 24 hours, it can be removed from the pans and sliced or wrapped and frozen for later use.,
Heat oil until it starts to smoke. Slice scrapple about 3/8 to 1/2-inch thick. Carefully put in pan and let it cook until crispy on one side. Flip and do the same for the other side. Do not flip until crispy or it will fall apart. With experience, you'll figure out how to keep everything intact. Enjoy! Serve it alongside eggs or biscuits or any other favorite breakfast ingredients; or, slap it between some bread or a roll and make a sandwich.
Using all the meat from a game animal sometimes takes effort and a time commitment. But, in the end, it is the right thing to do and the results are rewarding.