At Last! “The Pork Roll Cookbook” Arrives, Slinging Lore and Recipes Galore

Why did it take a publisher in Maine to produce The Pork Roll Cookbook? I don’t know, but I’m glad they tapped two capable Jersey reporters (both affiliated with the Times of Trenton) to create it.

In this nifty 160-page volume, Jenna Pizzi explores Taylor Pork Roll’s fascinating history and undeniable (if unlikely) continuing popularity, at least in the Garden State and Philly and on down to Baltimore. As you’ve probably heard, the product was invented (in 1856) by John Taylor of Trenton. He called it Taylor Ham, but after the 1906 federal truth-in-labeling law took effect, he renamed it Taylor Pork Roll because it did not contain meat from the pig’s hind leg.

Susan Sprague Yeske, for years the food editor of the Times of Trenton and a veteran restaurant reviewer and food writer, compiled and also developed the recipes—a total of 50, from breakfast (natch) to dessert (say whaaat?!).

The book’s design, reflecting pork roll’s proletarian heritage, includes black & white photos of diners, the famous “Trenton Makes, The World Takes” sign on the Lower Trenton Bridge over the Delaware, Lucy the Elephant, and boardwalks. The cover, inside pages and sometimes even the photo montages, are tinted with a murky color I can only term pork roll red.

Yeske didn’t grow up eating pork roll. Her father, who was from Maine, didn’t know from the stuff. Her mother died when she was young, and her stepmother had a Pennsylvania Dutch upbringing that did not roll out any welcome mat for pork roll. Yeske says she did get to like it during her decades of work at the Times of Trenton. However, having had to consume considerable quantities of it for this book, “I won’t,” she admits, “be eating pork roll anytime soon.”

Besides dreaming up such recipes as Candied Pork Roll (“Better than it sounds”), Hawaiian Pork Roll Pizza and the dip recipe below, now among her personal favorites, Yeske tapped pork roll-loving chefs from New Jersey and suburban Philly.

Among those is Will Mooney. Although he doesn’t serve pork roll at his Hopewell restaurant, Brothers Moon, he is an aficionado and contributed several recipes, including one for Black Bean and Pork Roll Quesadillas.

Mooney is an unrepentant pork roll proselytizer. “In 2009,” he tells me, “I was hired as a chef for a rafting trip on the Rogue River in Oregon. I wanted to bring something totally Jersey. Pork roll—a three-pound hunk of our finest! For breakfast I made pork roll and scrambled eggs. For lunch, pork roll and cheese. I used it instead of oil to sauté vegetables for soup. It adds depth of flavor, and you don’t need to add salt.

“Funny how folks who are not familiar with pork roll have a hard time wanting to eat it. Salty, fatty, pinkish/gray. One guest refused to even try it!”

The nerve!

No such problem was encountered at the first Pork Roll Festival in 2014, which drew more than 4,000 folks to Trenton despite a driving rain and hail. The 2015 Festival will take place May 23 at Mill Hill Park in Trenton (porkrollfestival.com). Activities at the all-day event include live music, food vendors, a recipe contest and (fashion event of the year!) the crowning of the Pork Roll Queen.

If you can’t wait that long for your pork roll fix, a book signing at Trenton Social Bar and Restaurant is scheduled for 5 pm on Saturday, April 11, with author Pizzi. The restaurant’s rear parking lot was the site of the first Pork Roll Festival, for which owner T.C. Nelson served Porkrollnita (think carnitas). Trenton Social will have a special pork roll menu available, including that dish.

Fun facts from The Pork Roll Cookbook:

–Pork roll has caught up to the 21st century with Johnny’s Pork Roll Truck. Among its creations is a sandwich of pork roll, duck egg & Gruyere.

–People came to the first Pork Roll Festival from as far away as Alaska.

–Wackiest recipe: Pork Roll on Wontons with Peaches and White Chocolate Sauce (“Sometimes the craziest combinations actually work”).

–Trenton is still home to the two main producers of pork roll: Taylor Provisions Company and Case’s Pork Roll. Taylor’s is considered spicier; Case’s sweeter. Both have been around for more than 150 years and both still have descendants of the founders in the business.

–In 2012, the Case’s factory in the Chambersburg section of Trenton had to temporarily halt production when it “suffered a fire that left a smoky smell of cooked meat lingering in the air throughout the city.” Mmmmm.

JERSEY-STYLE CREAMY PORK ROLL DIP

From The Pork Roll Cookbook

Ingredients
Cooking spray
3 slices pork roll, diced small
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped onions

 

  1. Spray a small skillet with cooking spray. Briefly brown the chopped pork roll. Remove to a paper towel to drain.
  2. In a small bowl, combine pork roll with the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 1 day. Serve with chips, pita, or veggie sticks.

Makes approximately 3 cups.

Variation: For a spicier version, add 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño peppers.

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