Sitting in traffic at a red light the other day, I found myself surrounded by large trucks, which is where I often turn for reading material when I’m bored. One towering panel urged me to be an owner/operator who could have weekends at home. Another wanted me to be aware he was carrying caustic, radioactive explosives while a third suggested I call an 800-number if I wanted to eat shit.
Then I saw a smaller truck directly in front of me that encouraged something only slightly more palatable for my breakfast: “Neese’s low carbs,” it read. “Scrapple 7 grams, liver pudding 8 grams, liver mush 9 grams.”
The light changed and I made my left turn while my stomach turned right and rolled over. Having grown up in the kitchen of a Pennsylvania Dutch mother, I actually enjoyed scrapple as a naïve youth. Sort of like sausage yet pan-fried to a flat and crispy slab, I knew it had pork in it somewhere along with cornmeal and spices and a lot of other constituents I didn’t want to know about. To objectively describe it, though, I’d have to go online. I found a site called chowhound.com with several comments on the subject, and what I thought would be an excellent description for those whose only familiarity with rural mid-Atlantic cuisine was chewing tobacco.
“I’m sure I’ll offend someone with this, but Scrapple has to be one of the worst-tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth,” said one poster. “We were duped into trying it by a waitress in Pennsylvania. After a polite bite of what looked like grayish Spam I wanted to scrub my tongue with a brillo pad. I’ve tried blood sausage, ostrich jerky and wild antelope, but Scrapple beats them all.”
Farther down, another commentator was only a little more kind: it has “pork stock, pork, pork skins, pork hearts, pork livers, pork tongues, cornmeal, flour, salt and spices,” read this entry. “My Yiddish grandmother and five millennia worth of ancestors are turning over in their respective graves and, after that ingredient list, I may join them.”
To get a kinder portrayal from someone who actually makes their living producing this stuff, I turn not to the mud-slathered hog ready for a complicated afternoon at the butcher, but instead to neesessausage.com, owner of the truck I was stuck behind, and the subject of this week’s Website Review.
The home page of this relatively simple site appropriate to a small regional firm shows a picture of an antique delivery van (possibly used to dispatch the pigs in more than one sense of the word) and proudly proclaims its products have been “DELIVERED FRESH DAILY SINCE 1917.” There’s even a click-through on the word “freshness” that takes you to a page explaining they were the first North Carolina company to use sell-by dates on their packaging. They show a sample label reading “12 Sep 19,” which means the product is best used by September 19. The “12” is simply an “internal control number,” not the number of different glands in that particular pack.
One could easily contend that freshness is not necessarily the issue for those eating offal, but I do see the point that e. coli is probably less appetizing than even their most hard-core pork product. What that product might be could come from just about any of the items listed in the “Our Products” pulldown. There’s the liver pudding, with the modest claim that “believe it or not,” it’s a favorite of kids and “by the way, it doesn’t taste like pudding and it doesn’t look like liver.” There’s liver mush, a regional variation on liver pudding with no discernable difference other than the word “mush” being even more disgusting. There’s souse, which “has a flavor some swear you can’t find anywhere else in the world,” assuming that’s a good thing. There’s extra-sage sausage, a very wise and judicious pork derivative. And there’s C-Loaf.
Not happy with their caption that “there are lots of folks who don’t know what C-Loaf is, but if you grew up on a farm you know it,” I turned to a popular search engine for help. At first, I was shocked to see that it’s made from the remains of members of the Construction Licensing Officials Association of Florida (CLOAF), then only slightly less appalled to read other descriptions of “grey ghostly pork brick,” “square hot dog,” “parts not good enough for sausage” and “head and scraps.”
I turned next to the Company History section of the Neese’s website to learn more about the business itself. The first Neeses immigrated to America in the 1700s and became farmers, blacksmiths and livestock traders. “They harvested almost everything they ate,” and apparently ate everything they harvested. By 1917, J.T. Neese was selling sausage from a covered wagon that was made from his wife’s secret recipe (the sausage, not the wagon). In the late 1920s, sons Tom and Homer took over the family business, which now is run by Tom III.
Today’s chief executive showed an early interest in molded entrails, as the story is told of the very small child helping out at the State Fair and challenging the adult kin who preferred cutting sample slabs into six pieces to opt instead for the more bottom-line-friendly eight-cut. “That would make Tom III wrong except for one thing: his name is Neese.”
Similarly folksy but pointless stories are littered throughout the website margins, designed to portray an old-timey image rather than any coherent corporate philosophy. The first Mr. Neese once bought a cup of coffee while dressed in his overalls, which made the waitress think that he was a vagrant. To prove he wasn’t, he paid for the coffee with a hundred-dollar bill. Another time, someone stole his pipe when he left it on the hood of his pickup. Discovering the theft, he “thought for a moment, pulled out his tobacco, placed it on the hood and said ‘whoever got my pipe is going to need this tobacco.’” Truly, a great man.
There’s the requisite section offering recipes that use Neese’s products, and these are mostly predictable: sausage balls, sausage dip, sausage stew, sausage and penne pasta dinner, liver-cheese ball and the “Best Ever Liver Pudding Sandwich.” You can even go online to submit your own recipe, though I’m not sure they’d publish my idea for putting scrapple, C-loaf and liver mush through a high-powered juicer, then misting it lightly from a Predator drone over the Taliban-held Swat Valley.
The last part I’ll mention, in the Neese’s News pulldown, brings me full circle back to that intersection where I encountered one of their trucks. It seems the company now collects and restores historic delivery vehicles with the same kind of exquisite detail they put into their processed innards. They have a covered Conestoga wagon used to deliver sausage as early as 1905. There’s a completely restored 1927 Dodge that “found its way to Neese from its original owner in Plattsburg, NY, and then on to another owner in Flemington, NJ and finally purchased from a Mr. Buckley in Rural Retreat, Virginia.” There’s a 1929 Ford sedan found in a barn, bought by a Greensboro family, traded for a van, then sold to a meat market manager who then sold it to Neese.
If this liver thing doesn’t work out, sounds like they could give Carfax a run for its money. I bet the mold-encrusted original title on a Katrina-flooded Pontiac Aztek could serve as another fine filler in the Neese’s line of mysterious breakfast meats.