Memorial Day weekend was coming up and I was looking for something to do. On my way to work, I heard about a festival that sounded perfect for my Regional Ritual type of blog post.
The Taylor Pork Roll Festival. For those of you from Jersey and the southern Pennsylvania area, you get it. For those of you who aren’t from here, let me give you some history.
Taylor Ham, as it was originally called, was made by John Taylor in 1856. He kept the recipe a secret, but was force to change the name to Taylor Pork Roll in 1906, as the product did not meet the definition of ham in the new Pure Food and Drug Act. It was made in a cloth sack for easy transportation, and was rumored to have been a provision for soldiers in the Civil War. Production was set up in Trenton, NJ, where it remains today, made by Taylor Provisions. It still comes in the sack, but also come pre-sliced and ready to fry or grill. Tradition dictates that you cut a slice in the the edge of the round pieces so that it will stay flat when you cook it. Looks like PacMan…
So what is in it? The recipe is still secret, but it is similar in consistency to SPAM. A blend of herbs and spices, and ground pork.
Whether you call it Taylor Ham or Taylor Pork Roll depends on where you are from. Central and northern New Jersey tend to call it Taylor Ham, but South Jersey and the Philadelphia area call it Taylor Pork Roll. You can check out the divide here.
So, off we go to Trenton, NJ. The Taylor Pork Roll Festival is sponsored by Trenton Social , a bar and restaurant who has been hosting the festival for 5 years. The festival invites local vendors and food trucks to set up and offer their specialties, but they must include pork roll. My first stop was a Bloody Mary, with a tiny pork roll sandwich as a garnish. Great way to get started!
Off to what looked to be all thing pork roll, The Pork Roll Store located in Allentown, NJ. I met Robbie, the self proclaimed “Pork Roll Princess”. Her family has owned their store for 98 years. Robbie is a bubbly ambassador of pork roll, and will gladly tell you all about her family’s business, which she now runs. They were grilling up Pork Roll kebabs, which consisted of pork roll, pineapple and a cherry. The combination of the salty pork roll with the caramelized sweetness of the pineapple is quite a taste treat.
Delorenzo’s The Burg food truck was offering the traditional tomato pie (another food ritual I will save for another blog post) with pork roll included. If you read the Stephanie Plum book series by Janet Evanovich, you will understand the reference to “The Burg”. The Burg is the nickname of the Chambersburg section of Trenton. A diverse neighborhood, it was home to Poles, Slovakians, Germans and Irish before becoming predominately Italian.
For the classic pork roll sandwich, it has to be Johnny’s Pork Roll. Johnny’s has your pork roll, egg and cheese on a hard roll, but also offers variation on the traditional, like the PBLT-pork roll, bacon, lettuce and tomato; The Western-pork roll, provolone, pepper and egg; and The Reuben-pork roll, kraut, Russian dressing on rye bread. Johnny’s embodies the story and the love of pork roll. Check out the video here.
There was also pork roll versions by the Bacon Broads, and all types of hot sauce to try on your pork roll by Dirty Sexy Sauce.
But you have to have dessert, right? Go for the Pork Roll Ice Cream. Yup. Made by Jake Hunt of Windy Brow Farms, the ice cream had a bourbon-y-caramel-y base with chunks of pork roll in it. Salty and sweet, it was delicious! Don’t knock it until you have tried it.
This had everything a food festival should have. Recipe contests, music, and the crowning of the Pork Roll Queen. What’s a festival without a pageant? Oh and every festival needs a mascot. Not sure what he was called, but Trenton Social is located near the courthouse, so hence the”Meat of Justice”.
So why does pork roll rate a festival? South Jersey and Philly folks are passionate about their food products and sports teams. We are a scrappy bunch. We love our pork roll and our Eagles. Any reason for a party. Super Bowl win or Pork Roll Festival, we are there!
The summer is still young, and there will be more food festivals to attend. Check out the link here in the Philly area.
Which food festivals are in your area? Go check them out, and post about them here! Would love to see what is your favorite.
Sidenote: We had to try the pork roll kebabs ourselves, so here is a picture of our version. We still had the pineapple, but added yellow pepper, and mushrooms. It is brushed with a Mandarin Orange Ginger salad dressing while grilled, which added a sweet and tangy punch to the kebab. Grilled eggplant was the side.