Move over, Super Bowl – here comes Scrapplefest

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

There are causes celebres like Super Bowl XLI that help make the COLT winter BEARable (sorry, couldn’t resist!), but such events pale alongside a Scrapplefest.

If you don’t already know that, I commend such an activity to your mental and physical well-being. I just returned from one, so I know whereof I speak.

I had to drive 300 miles to attend, battling foul weather and semis nearly blowing my Miata off the interstate, but it was more than worth the effort.

Ten Bishop first cousins gathered the morning of Feb. 3 at the Don Smith residence in Rosemont, suburban Philadelphia, to reconnect, reminisce and ruminate. The initial planning involved several cousins who live in proximity, then the list of attendees quickly expanded. The 11 persons present included a shirtsleeve relative who most of us met for the first time. There were two Chuck Bishops – first-cousin Chuck, same age as me from Findlay, Ohio, and another from Harrisburg, Pa.

Cousin Don Smith sent “the other Chuck Bishop” an e-mail invitation to attend, and he accepted. Cousin Dan Bishop flew in from Malibu, Calif., Jon Smith from Lafayette, Ind., and Stan Bishop from Long Island, N.Y.

Cousin Don Smith gave each of us “Scrapplefest 2007” nametags, and everyone stood around watching the scrapple sizzle in the iron skillet, offering helpful criticism about the preparation method and opinions on what brand of scrapple tastes best.

What is scrapple? Glad you asked. It’s a savory mush in which cornmeal and (usually buckwheat) flour are simmered with pork scraps and trimmings, then formed into a loaf. It is cut into thin slices and pan-fried, with a little flour, until the outsides form a crust. Arguably the first pork food invented in America, the first recipes were created by Dutch colonists who settled near Philadelphia and surrounding areas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

My mom made it for our family as I was growing up; we usually ate it for breakfast but sometimes for an evening meal as well. This motley menagerie spent several hours hovering over a heavy-laden table, laughing ourselves silly. The conversation grew louder and several trains of thought colliding in midstream as we consumed generous quantities of scrapple, fried eggs and toast, fried potatoes, bacon, cinnamon rolls and shoefly pie, orange juice and strong (putting it mildly) coffee.

My brother Michael Bishop, recently ordained as worship and music leader for the Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church, wasn’t able to attend, but he wrote an “invocation,” using the titles or first lines of hymns, to open the proceedings.

It read in part:

“Morning has broken,

Lift your glad voices.

Let your gladness have no end.

Raise your Ebenezer!

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence as

We break only bread together. In our weakness

Father, forgive our foolish ways.”

As the raucous conversation and camaraderie flowed freely, one had to be brave to ask for the floor, certain to receive a roasting depending on what one might attempt to say. Considerable debate ensued around the table about the appropriate topping for scrapple – ketchup, or Bauman’s apple butter and cottage cheese on the side or maple syrup – but all these condiments were available.

There was also major debate on the relative merits of wet-bottom versus dry-bottom shoofly pie. At one point, the noise level subsided to the point that fourth cousin Chuck Bishop was asked to tell about himself, which he did. He has an avid interest in genealogy and had helped Don Smith in researching information about our ancestor Jacob Bishopburger, who arrived in Philadelphia on Sept. 10, 1753, on the ship “Beulah” from Europe. He was our sixth great-grandfather, nine generations back.

“I’ve never been to such a gathering before,” Chuck said, “but it’s obvious to me that there’s a lot of love here.” The group promptly dubbed him “Down Chuck,” and our first cousin “Up Chuck.”

At one point, an impromptu business meeting was called to discuss the future. It was moved and seconded to hold another Scrapplefest in early 2008, with cousin Tom Bishop of Perkasie, Pa., offering to host it. Much discussion focused on what brand of scrapple and applebutter to serve, whether bacon belongs on the same menu with scrapple and a sentiment expressed that scrapple really should accompany soft-boiled eggs served in an egg cup.

The group examined the pros and cons of setting up a Scrapplefest website and of securing a corporate sponsor for next year. Cousin Bill Bishop was commissioned to write up a “formal” set of minutes to help preserve the history-making moment.

It was a magical, precious time together that passed too quickly, with many expressing appreciation for the opportunity to be together – and it wasn’t for a funeral.

We celebrated the life and memory of our grandparents, the late Walter and Priscilla Bishop of Harmony Hill Farm, and their offspring, our parents – the late Gertrude (Smith), George, Edgar, Frank and J. Vernon Bishop (my dad).

Life is too short not to seize the moment for extended family to get together and simply enjoy each other and to spend considerable time rekindling memories and celebrating connectedness – whether or not it includes eating scrapple or other comfort food.

Blessed be the shoofly pie that binds.


Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.

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