Jim Bishop: ScrappleFest gang lives low on the hog
Column by Jim Bishop
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PERKASIE, PA – It was one of those much anticipated magical moments that don’t happen often enough, so when it does, you try to savor every minute.
Saturday, March 6, 10 Bishop first cousins assembled at Tom Bishop’s comfortable suburban Perkasie, home for the premier event of the spring social season, ScrappleFest V.
Once more the group seized the occasion to dine on a pork product that causes some outside (envious) observers to declare, “Scrapple – some people have no taste.” That’s OK; there will always be a peasantry.
For these male descendants of the late Walter S. and Priscilla Bergey Bishop of Harmony Hill Farm, Doylestown, Pa., the delectable table laden with scrapple and other comfort food – fried Yukon Gold potatoes, scrambled eggs, toast, shoofly pie, orange juice and coffee – provides the excuse to come together. The primary emphasis is on catching up with each other, enjoying warm fellowship laced with raucous laughter and on celebrating a rich family heritage.
Again this year the scrapple was baked rather than fried in a skillet, helping to dispel any fear of artery-clogging ingredients in this traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare made from pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and (usually buckwheat) flour and spices.
Nonetheless, before the group thrust forks into the gastronomic delight, eldest cousin Don Bishop Smith counseled, “I trust every one has taken his Lipitor.” Each one smiled knowingly before proceeding to dine low on the hog.
A printed agenda on each plate outlined the shape of things to come – a time following the meal for singing favorite selections from the Brethren-Mennonite Hymnal, a group photo, a ChapStick® check – all Bishops are expected to carry a tube of the lip balm at all times – and “general chaos.”
The youngest cousin present, brother/Rev. Mike Bishop of Blooming Glen, Pa., led the assembly in a musical reflection, sung acapella in four-part harmony (or something approximating it) to the tune, “Praise to God, Immortal Praise”:
Loved ones gathered at the board
Kindred hearts of one accord,
Graced with laughter and good will,
Echoed gifts of Harmony Hill.
Scrapple, bacon, eggs and toast
Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Healing body, soul and mind,
Blessings of the ties that bind.
Life is steeped in joy and pain,
Sunshine always touched by rain.
Memory lives where Stan once stood
Girding up our brotherhood.
Sing the bounty of this day,
That which keeps us on the way.
Here we find a Sabbath rest
In this sacred ScrappleFest.
This year’s guest speaker was the inimitable John L. Ruth of Harleysville, Pa., former English professor, veteran churchman, pastor, author of voluminous church histories and consummate storyteller.
John was in his usual rare form, pretending not to mind our incessant razzing of the expert on local history losing his way en route to ScrappleFest and arriving late. He proceeded to fire up one fascinating vignette after another on the theme, “Food for Thought.”
Ruth regaled the group with his reflections, moving from the sublime to the scrumptious. Some ‘punch’ lines in his anecdotes were told in the Pennsylvania German (Dutch) tongue, which he acknowledged, “sometimes lose some of its import in translation,” i.e., “Wuhl ke kuche oder boi, awwer doch gut essa” (meaning: “While it might not be cake or pie, it is still good eating” or “Alle moll als ‘n Hund blufft velrert er ‘n maulvoll” (“Every time a dog barks it loses a mouthful of food”).
A sampling of Ruth’s flavorful fare:
. Manasseh Clemens’s ad: “A fresh supply of stale bread always on hand.”
. Hutterite turkey jerky (note the internal rhyme). The first three were good.
. “I’ll have the chef’s salad – if the chef doesn’t mind.”
. A poultry merchant pulls out the same frozen chicken twice and shows it to the customer, who replies, “I’ll take both.”
. Mennonites’ departing hymn: “God be with you till we eat again.”
The group acknowledged the absence of Stan Bishop of Valley Stream, N.Y., formerly of Doylestown, the first cousin of this generation to leave this world for the next. Stan died just before Thanksgiving 2009 at age 69. A special arrangement of artifacts was displayed in his honor.
The fine food, fellowship and lively discourse over the course of the three-hour gathering may linger gentle on our minds and in our stomachs, but the memories shaken, stirred and ingested will surely burn long and deep in our hearts.
Blessed be the shoo-fly pie that binds.