Today, May 28, 2016, New Jersey honors its iconic food, the pork roll, in not one, but two festivals in Trenton. Why two? TC Nelson and Scott Miller created the first festival in 2014, then had a disagreement that result this year in two separate events this year. The Nelson festival is being held between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. at Trenton Social and Miller’s event will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Mill Hill Park.
Why all the fuss?
Okay, pork roll isn’t foie gras or Chateaubriand, but this tasty artery-clogging treat is the star of the Jersey Breakfast, the pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich. And as such, it’s celebrated, not only with the festivals, but also with a “documentary,” a band (The Pork Roll Project) – and also by the stoner band Ween, which memorialized the sandwich in a song.
State Assemblyman Democrat Tim Eustace is leading the push to make the PEC the official state sandwich; the only holdup is the debate about what to call it. Some say it should be “Taylor ham,” the name preferred by North Jerseyans for the product developed by John Taylor in 1856. Others (in South Jersey) prefer the generic “pork roll” name. Recently Governor Chris Christie, reflecting his North Jersey roots, said: “It’s ‘Taylor ham’ egg and cheese.”
Though official histories say the pork roll (aka Taylor ham) was developed in 1856 by John Taylor, some reports claim that a pork roll-like product dates back to the Battle of Trenton, which took place on December 26, 1776 and was a crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War. (However no one claims that Washington ate a pork roll sandwich before crossing the Delaware and defeating the Hessians.)
The PEC sandwich is on the menu of almost every Jersey diner and has also found its way to the Cooking Channel, the Food Network and even The Great Food Truck Race.
Though the pork roll label clearly admits to such culinary felonies as high saturated fat content, preservatives (sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate) and 580 mg of salt, Jersey ignores this lethal combination. (One blogger called it the “heroin of pork.) Even in this health-conscious age, Jersey expats yearn for the fatty mouth feel, the salt and sugar-induced pleasure of the first bite – and support hefty mail order sales at Jerseyporkroll.com, Amazon and other outlets.
Did we mention that there’s also a Miss Pork Roll? (Here she comes…)
The first Pork Roll Queen was Maggie Kowalski, a twenty-something from Bayonne. Her “talent” was challenging a stranger to a push up contest. She explained: “My talent was sticking it to the haters who thought the five finalists were too skinny to be Pork Roll Queens. We’re pork-roll strong in New Jersey.”
The queen in 2015 was Elisha Abdelaal, also twenty-something, also from Bayonne. “My talent,” she said, “was definitely a crowd-pleaser. I did a one-handed handstand to the song ‘Highway to the Danger Zone.’ While in my handstand I picked up a pork roll sandwich and took a few bites.”
So Jersey. And, being born and bred Jersey myself, I say this with affection as well as smile.
In closing, a final word on pork roll from Jersey Boy Jon Bon Jovi: “Taylor ham – a pork roll – is a Jersey fixture. Taylor ham with cheese on a hard roll is love.”