What’s your favorite food unique to Sussex County?
It is difficult to pin a food to a geographical area because it is not always easy to trace its history.
But some foods are accepted as official Sussex County specialties, regardless of their origin.
At the top of the list is scrapple. Although the popular meat is not native to Sussex County, it has become our official adopted meat product.
The county is home to RAPA Scrapple on Railroad Avenue in Bridgeville, the world’s largest scrap metal producer. Launched by Ralph and Paul Adams in 1926, the original recipe has not changed.
So what is there to discard? Those who like it tell others not to ask this question and enjoy it.
Here is the official list as proposed by RAPA: pork livers, broth, hearts, fats and skins, white cornmeal, wheat flour, salt and spices. In other words, all that’s left of a pig.
RAPA has branched out over the years and now offers varieties of scrapple, including hot and spicy, turkey, beef, and scrapple with bacon. Their Greensboro Blend is billed as scrap yard prime rib with a blend of pork and beef.
Many people in East Sussex are fond of Milton Sausage and Scrapple.
Scrapple was brought to America by German settlers in the Philadelphia area in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is considered an ethnic food of the Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Amish and Mennonites.
There’s nothing better than a crispy, thinly sliced breakfast with home fries, scrambled eggs, or easy-to-make eggs. And the discarded sandwiches, only on white bread, are considered a go-to food at events in the county and southern Delaware.
It’s such a favorite that the people of Bridgeville showcase the pork product every year at the Apple Scrapple Festival. It has become one of the county’s most popular festivals.
Any type of chicken
Because Sussex County is the largest producer of chicken (broilers) in the county, just about everything involving chicken is a Sussex staple. Fried, grilled, baked, roasted, grilled, braised and smoked – it’s all good. And for the adventurous, there’s always beer can chicken cooked on the grill.
Chicken and slippery dumplings are unique to Sussex County, and for decades churches competed to see who had the best slippery dumpling cooks. Religious suppers almost always included chicken and dumplings.
There is an art to making chicken and dumplings, and I fear that over time fewer and fewer people will be able to enjoy this Sussex dish.
Served as a side dish – or tossed in if you’re really Sussex – with baked chicken, dumplings are made by cutting dumpling dough which is cut into squares. It is then cooked with chicken broth, which makes the dumplings slippery.
Prepare a barbecue
If you haven’t stopped at a roadside chicken barbecue (called a BBQ) you haven’t had the full Sussex experience. Many county organizations use chicken barbecues as fundraisers. The biggest, and many say the best, is the weekly Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company BBQ on Route 13.
As the chicken cooks, the smoke and aroma drift through the Sussex countryside, inviting everyone to join in.
Almost every town, city, crossroads and village in Sussex has someone cooking and selling barbecue chicken during the summer.
craving for blue crabs
Besides chicken, most Sussex counties love blue crabs. There isn’t much more Sussex County than a meal of steamed crabs and corn on the cob.
I bet you can’t list the number of restaurants in the area that serve crabs, as there are dozens of them all over the county. Although steamed crabs are the most popular, there are dozens of other ways to prepare and enjoy crabs, including cakes, soft shell, soup, dip, imperial and even the mac and cheese.
Shelling a crab – to get all the goodness out of it – is an acquired technique passed down from generation to generation.
To truly enjoy the crabbing experience, you need to put in a lot of time and have plenty of Sussex County brewed craft beer to wash them down.
Blue crabs, found in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay Area, are tasty by name. Their scientific name is Callinectes sapidus, which translates to a beautiful, tasty swimmer.
Crabbing is a Sussex County rite of passage. Dangling a line in the water with a chicken neck attached is cathartic for many people, especially those who don’t want to pay top dollar for crabs.
In love with sweet corn
Although not unique to the region, many Sussex counties seem obsessed with sweet corn, at least in the Lewes area. Social media is flooded every summer with posts from people asking about The Corn Man, which is actually Freeman Farm corn, and it’s usually women who run the booth.
When the family moved from their longtime location at the intersection of Robinsonville Road and Plantation Road, people went crazy. When they discovered that the new location was about a mile down the road, all was well with the world again.
It’s also a major event when the Brittinghams announce they have sweet corn ready at their popular Milton market.
Markets and more markets
Cape Gazette recipe guru Denise Clemons helped me compile a list of other Sussex foods, including tomatoes, beach plum jam, strawberries, muskrat, shad, peaches, watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, squash, cucumbers, lima beans and Delaware Bay oysters.
Where else in the world is a tomato sandwich considered a meal?
We are fortunate to have weekly Farmers Markets in almost every town offering Sussex vegetables and fruit as they ripen each season.
And if you can’t get enough, there are retail farmers markets dotted throughout the county. Route 404 between Georgetown and the Maryland state line is by far the best location for the markets.
Markets not only serve as a place for good produce, but also remind us how important the agricultural industry is to the county. There are more than 50 summer farmers’ markets throughout the county listed on the Delaware Department of Agriculture website.
These awesome beach treats
Then there are the iconic beach treats loved by thousands, including Fries from Thrasher, Saltwater Taffy from Dolle, and Pizza from Grotto and Nicola.
I don’t forget the popularity of the many craft beers and spirits brewed throughout the county. That’s a topic for another column.
Let’s face it, Sussex County may not be the foodie capital, but for home cooking and fresh produce, it can’t be beat.