Facing a food that frightens

Eateries: Scrapple gets a second chance and proves quite tasty, despite its main ingredients.

July 24, 1999|By ROB KASPER | ROB KASPER,SUN COLUMNIST

It sits on my plate looking brown and harmless. It is scrapple. But I am not sure I have the courage to eat it.

Facing a slab of fried scrapple at the breakfast table is a defining moment. You either love it as many natives of Maryland do. Or you are scared of scrapple, especially if you are a "come here," someone like me who moved to the state.

This is especially true when you learn that pig parts are the crucial ingredients in this cornmeal loaf.

But I am beginning my final day of eating my way through the Eastern Shore with a brave portion of scrapple and grits. I am sitting in a stronghold of scrapple, the Little Acorn Cafe in Salisbury.

It seems like a good place to make another attempt at sampling this dish. The cafe is inconspicuous, tucked behind a parking lot and a sign for a cleaners. Only the locals seem to know about this small joint with 10 stools and a handful of booths. And it is homey.

Boldly, I lift a forkful of scrapple to my mouth. I chew. Amazingly, after years of being a scrapple coward, I am converted. I can eat this stuff. It actually tastes good.

Waitress Terri Ennis tells me preparation is the key. "You have to slice it thin and fry it crisp," she says.

Her mother, Margaret Beauchamp, the cook and owner of the Little Acorn, has been fixing scrapple that way for the last 19 years, she says. "Some people eat it raw, but you really have to love scrapple to do that."

Today is "dumpling day" at the Little Acorn. Every Wednesday and Friday, homemade "slippery dumplings" with chicken or beef are served. I am full of scrapple, so I watch other customers devour the dumplings. Eastern Shore dumplings are different from city dumplings.

"Your dumplings up in Baltimore are puffy," Ennis explains. "Ours are flat. People from Baltimore call them `noodles.' "

By 2 in the afternoon, the Little Acorn has closed, and I am hunting for a ripe watermelon in Salisbury. With its sandy, well-drained soil, this part of the Eastern Shore is prime watermelon country.

"There are about 400 to 500 acres of watermelons growing in this vicinity," says Jimmy Harris, owner of Harris Market, a retail and wholesale produce operation in Salisbury.

Harris has been in the watermelon business 41 years, learning the ups and downs from his late father, Jim Harris. The "heavy watermelon season" is just starting, he says.

From now until the end of August, melons ripen in the fields and are sold to carloads of vacationers traveling along U.S. 50 headed to and from the beach. Produce stands on the going-home, or westbound, side of the highway usually sell more watermelons, says Harris, who supplies melons to several highway stands.

It seems folks in a luggage-loaded car don't want to carry a watermelon to a vacation house. But, on the way home, they are willing to find room in the trunk for a melon that will remind them of happy days at the ocean.

The way to find a ripe watermelon is to thump it, Harris says. He demonstrates on one of the deep green Sugarbaby watermelons in his market. He thumps the middle of the melon with his knuckles and listens.

You want to hear a solid thump, he says. If the sound is flat, the melon is too ripe. If the sound is hollow, the watermelon is not ready.

With his trained ear, Harris detects the harmonious or discordant notes of reverberating watermelon innards. To me, all the thumps sound alike.

But, now, when people ask me how I picked such a good melon, I tell them the secret is in the thump.

As I roll into Ocean City, I head for an eatery that doesn't have tableclothes. The Crab Bag, an old two-story house transformed into a carry-out and restaurant, has sheets of brown paper covering about two dozen rough wood tables.

The day is overcast. It has been raining two days and vacationers who want to frolic in the surf are getting restless and hungry.

By mid-afternoon, the downstairs tables in the Crab Bag are filled with eaters attacking piles of steamed crabs. I climb the narrow stairs and sit next to a father and two teen-age sons who are visiting from Maryland City in Anne Arundel County.

They order a prodigious amount of steamed seafood: two lobsters, two blue crabs, two snow crab clusters, two Dungeness crabs, a dozen large shrimp, a mound of clams, an Alaskan king crab or two and corn on the cob.

In my experience, the two major elements of a successful ocean vacation are excessive swimming and eating. Since the gloomy days cheated these guys out of planned beach time, they seem intent on spending extra time at the table.

My supper -- a half pound of spicy steamed shrimp, a fried flounder sandwich and an ear of steamed corn -- is flavorful but seems puny compared with the mound of seafood enjoyed by the guys sitting next to me.

I am not able to finish my shrimp. I slink away from the table, knowing my brown table covering soon will be yanked off and replaced with a new sheet of paper. More eager eaters are lining up outside the restaurant, waiting for tables.

As I drive home, I wonder who disposed of my leftover shrimp, the waitress cleaning off the table or the big eaters who were sitting next to me? My money is on the guys.

Look for Rob Kasper's eating odyssey to continue on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the Today section. Coming Monday: A taste of the South Pacific, ribs and rockfish in Southern Maryland.

Reprints of this series are available for $9.95. To order, please call SunSource at 410-332-6800.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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