Friday, July 13, 2012

Exploring cultural differences through pork products

Anyone who's lived in the state a while knows that there are cultural differences between North and South Jersey. Many of the variances are related to foods. You eat a sub sandwich in the North, while it's a hoagie down South. Some of us call the candy topping for ice cream "jimmies" while others say "sprinkles."  Then there's the great Wawa/Quick Chek debate. Thing is, I've always assumed that people still recognize the 'other' term for a food, even if they don't describe it that way themselves. How many of us have been strongly corrected for using the 'wrong' expression for something when we're out of our home region? That takes a level of awareness. And in this age of rampant communication, how could someone not be aware of alternate names?

That's what I thought before the great Taylor ham debacle.

Ivan and I had built up quite an appetite during our visits to Hollybush and Glassboro WMA, so when we found a decent-sized diner in Mullica Hill, we headed in, sat at the counter and ordered. Having only some fruit before we'd left the house around 5:30 a.m., I figured I'd get a substantial breakfast at midday: two scrambled eggs with toast and home fries, plus a side of Taylor ham. I'd seen pork roll listed as an option, and my brain automatically translated it to Mr. Taylor's spiced pork product. I didn't even think about it.

taylor ham pork roll
Taylor ham: the disputed pork product.
I think you know where this is going. I ask for Taylor ham, the waitress writes it down, all is good...

...until she shows up with my eggs with toast and home fries on a platter, and a slab of ham on a small plate.

"Uh, I asked for Taylor ham," I said, courteously but obviously not pleased.

"This is the only kind of ham we have," she said, equally as politely.

"Taylor ham," I insisted. "I saw it on the menu." Then the light switch went on in my head. Ohhhhhhhh! "Pork roll," I clarified.

We were in South Jersey, but I never, ever thought I'd have to explain Taylor ham to a diner waitress anywhere in New Jersey. She confessed that she'd thought I was looking for a particular brand of ham, so she hadn't asked for clarification. I guess she figured I wouldn't know the difference, but we weren't talking Hormel vs. Shop Rite here.

State Senator John Taylor:
inventor of the cornerstone
of the Jersey Breakfast
After we I worked it out and mutually apologized for the confusion, another waitress came by. She told me she'd heard the whole exchange and knew what I was talking about because she'd heard about Taylor ham from some people from "up north." Apparently a bi-regional translator, she noted that she often had to explain scrapple to people north of the Philly region.

I checked a nearby menu and confirmed my error: they offered pork roll, not Taylor ham. So, yeah, it was my bad, but really, isn't it reasonable to expect that a diner employee would have heard of Taylor ham, no matter where she lived in the state?

The famed North/South Jersey researcher Steve Chernoski addressed the pork roll debate in his blog, Where is the Line Between North and South Jersey. According to his research, "Taylor ham" is a term used only in seven and a half counties (with Warren suffering the split) on the northern end of the state, with my home county of Union being the southernmost. I could swear I used to enjoy Taylor ham and cheese sandwiches at the Cook College student center in New Brunswick, but they might have split the difference and called it Taylor pork roll.

I guess I'm going to have to concede this one. And read diner menus a lot more carefully from now on.

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