Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pin It

Kinderheim Gritz: Prohibition-era Pork Belly Charcuterie

North Carolina has liver mush, Pennsylvania is known for scrapple, and in some parts of Appalachia, poor-do is the local name for a dish that gives outsiders pause. These are venerable and entrenched regional charcuterie specialties with names that can be off-putting to modern eaters. Those who either grew up with them, though, or who have overcome the names, know that the stuff can be damn delicious when prepared properly.

Meat porridges such as scrapple or the unfortunately named liver mush are specialties that are particularly easy to make at home. They vary in their makeup, but share four characteristics.

  • are made with meat (finely ground or chopped pork is most common, though beef, poultry, and even bison are not unheard of)
  • are thickened with cereal or buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
  • have a thick, gruel-like consistency when cooking
  • thicken on standing so that, once cool, may be sliced and fried
Yep. It's a Kookbook.
Add to these the Ohio/Kentucky specialty goetta. Like the others, it’s an immigrant dish. Although sometimes made with beef rather than pork, goetta is essentially scrapple made with steel-cut oats in the place of scrapple’s buckwheat. Its name is a transliteration into English of the Plattdeutsch (Low German) götta, meaning groats (i.e., hulled, cracked grains). In standard High German, the word is Grütze, a cognate our own Southern grits. In fact, my great grandmother’s name for sliceable puddings such as scrapple was Happelgritz. Happel is an old dialect word for “head” suggesting that her recipe was made from pork head — a very common practice.

Her recipe didn’t seem to survive. At least, I haven’t found it yet. I recognized the gist of it, though, in a recipe from a Prohibition-era fundraising cookbook from Addison, Illinois just outside Chicago. The recipe is, simply, Gritz. Its use of steel-cut oats puts it firmly in the Germanic Ohio/Kentucky goetta tradition while its call for pork bellies appeals to modern eaters who have rediscovered this unctuous cut of pork.

From the 1927 Kinderheim Kookbook, here’s Mrs. W. G. Bohnsack’s recipe for

4 to 5 lbs. of fresh pork sides (the part used for smoking bacon), cut in 3 or 4 inch pieces
Cover with hot water, add
1 teaspoonful sage
1 teaspoonful thyme
1 teaspoonful sweet marjoram
2 to 3 tablespoonfuls salt
½ teaspoonful each of cloves and allspice (ground)

Boil until meat is tender. Take meat out of juice and put through meat chopper. Strain liquid and add to it 1½ lbs. steel cut oats and stir until it starts to boil and boil fifteen minutes stirring constantly. Stir in ground meat and let all come to boiling point. Put tightly covered kettle in oven at 300° and bake one hour. Turn off gas and let gritz in oven one-half hour longer. Stir occasionally while in oven. May be cooked on top of stove by stirring constantly 1 hour or until oats are soft. When cooked gritz must be consistency of corn meal mush.

Fry in iron skillet ten minutes for breakfast. Gritz should be made in cold weather only. Small pig's head may be used instead of pork sides. After having made gritz once, each cook can determine whether she needs more oats, less meat or more seasoning.

Goes well with:
  • William Woys Weaver’s book Country Scrapple is a scholarly, but short and enjoyable, exploration of not just scrapple, but panhas, goetta, poor-do, liver mush, haslet, pashofa, backbone pie, and other such goodnesses in need of exoneration among squeamish eaters. I drew on it here for parsing out the shared characteristics of scrapple-like dishes and for some of the German vocabulary. 
  • My own bacon dumplings for a wicked hangover.

William Woys Weaver (2003)
Country Scrapple
162 pages (hardback)
Stackpole Books
ISBN: 081170064X


DJ HawaiianShirt said...

Alright... Google can't give me any links or information on poor-do... can YOU?

Matthew Rowley said...

Well, poor-do means different things to different people. The first recorded instance I know of it in the sense of a meaty, sliceable pudding comes from Tilatha Wilson English's 1909 memoir "Pioneer Days in the Southwest from 1850 to 1879." English's parents hailed from Kentucky. Weaver quotes her in his book "Country Scrapple." He goes on: "In structure, it was a mixture made on the spot, and this is why the term probably derives from the Middle English verb poure-to, meaning to mix together." Weaver even declares the word "the immediate progenitor" of the term "burgoo" which Kentuckians would recognize as a complex stew.

John Egerton, however, tackling biscuits and gravy in his opus "Southern Food," notes that so few cookbooks have recipes for sawmill gravy to accompany the biscuits. He ascribes this to social and economic disparity in the South. "Even the name suggests poverty," he writes. "By some accounts, it derives from the fact that backwoods sawmill crews often subsisted on little more than coffee, biscuits, and gravy. In some parts of Kentucky, the dish was called poor-do — a little something on which the poor made do."

I deeply admire Egerton, but I think Weaver makes the more compelling origin story.

So you've got a range of meanings depending on where and to whom you ask. Could be a slicing fry-pudding, could be biscuits and gravy (especially if there's no or little meat, just drippings, in the gravy).