WHAT IT IS - Move over apple: Scrapple is now the best-selling pie flavor at Wards Pastry Shop in Ocean City. While your dream of a perfect pie flavor may not be that whitish congealed block of something-or-other made famous by the Pennsylvania Dutch, apparently this bakery - around for 88 years and considered a Jersey Shore staple - knows a thing or two about taking such an oddity and making it, well, palatable. "I think some people hear about scrapple pie and come in and buy it for the goof . . . but they come back because they try it and it's really good," said Wards' owner and chief baker Walter Hohman, 51, who started working in the bakery when he was 12. Scrapple is traditionally a combination of pork offal - scraps and trimmings like the heart, head, liver, and bones that wouldn't be used for anything else - that is boiled down into a broth and then combined with cornmeal, flour, and spices to form a mush. The mush is congealed into a loaf, which is cut into pieces and sold in small, frozen, or refrigerated blocks. It's a favorite in the Mid-Atlantic states alongside eggs for breakfast. It was created by German colonists who settled near Philadelphia and Chester County in the 17th and 18th centuries who were making a version of an Old Country dish called panhaas. Scrapple's regional popularity is still celebrated each October during the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Del.
WHEN IT GOT HERE - Two years ago, Hohman was trying to come up with novelty flavors to introduce to his bakery customers. He had been through the bacon craze - bacon cinnamon buns, bacon butter cookies - but nothing really took off. Then one day, Hohman was talking with his best friend, Ed Hitzel, a regional restaurant critic and foodie who died last year, about scrapple. "It was really Ed who suggested that I come up with something with scrapple . . . that it would really appeal to the Pennsylvania crowd who comes down to the Shore in the summertime," Hohman said. Wards, in the family since 1941, has always prided itself on keeping with the bakery's traditional recipes and offerings that generations of locals and visitors sought out - crispy butter cookies, soft dinner rolls, sweet pastries and doughnuts iced in handmade frostings, he said. The bakery itself has a decided old-school vibe, with a linoleum floor, original display cases, and an open kitchen where you can see the baked goods being pulled from the ancient ovens. "But sometimes you have to try something new, so after trying out a few different recipes, we went with the scrapple pie. And people really love it. We now sell more scrapple pie than we do apple pie," Hohman said. The bakery makes and sells about a dozen of five-inch pies a day. They sell for $4.50 each.
WHY IT'S SO TASTY - Hohman prepares a basic pie crust. He cuts the scrapple into chunks about the size of salad croutons and prebakes them on a cookie sheet. That's different from the usual, greasier method of pan frying the entire slice of scrapple until it is a crispy, deep brown. He won't say what goes into the delicious buttery streusel that tops the pie. "That's a secret recipe," Hohman said. The streusel, made with "sugar, flour, and stuff," is used on other offerings such as the bakery's popular crumb cakes. Bakers whip through about 30 pounds of streusel a week, he said. "It's the way the streusel melts on top of the scrapple when it's baking that makes it so good," Hohman said. The result is a two-serving pie that is delicious reheated and served as a breakfast food or dessert similar to mince meat pie.
WHERE YOU CAN GET SOME - Wards Pastry, 730 Asbury Ave., Ocean City, N.J. 08226. 609-399-1260. Scrapple pies can be ordered in advance and often sell out by the afternoon. Open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.