That's right, I said it. It's pork roll. Not Taylor ham.
When I went to the bagel shop to get breakfast this morning, I ordered "two pork roll, egg and cheeses, one on pumpernickel, one on plain, both saltpepperketchup." (I ordered for two people, smart ass. Not that I couldn't put away two of these bad boys ... anyway ...) I ordered "pork roll" even though the menu says "Taylor ham." I ordered "pork roll" even though the bagel shop is located a block away from my place here in Hudson County, here in North Jersey. I ordered "pork roll" and the folks behind the counter didn't even bat an eye.
Because even North Jersey folk are capable of admitting they're wrong, albeit tacitly.
It's as simple as reading a label
You see, "Taylor ham" is the North Jersey name for a kind of pork product made by Taylor Provisions of Trenton, N.J. John Taylor started making the delicious and addictive breakfast meat back in 1856, using a recipe that may have been around since the Battle of Trenton in the Revolutionary War, according to Wikipedia and its sources. It's the quintessential Jersey food staple.
But wait, you say. It's made by Taylor, so it has to be called "Taylor ham," no?
"No" is right. Look at Taylor's own damned labels for the stuff. The tube shown here clearly says "John Taylor's Pork Roll." The smaller package simply reads "Taylor Pork Roll."
So why do North Jerseyans insist on calling pork roll "Taylor ham"? Does it have anything to do with the North Jerseyan's perceived sense of elitism, which seems to rub off from nearby New York City? "Taylor ham" is certainly a far more dignified-sounding name than pork roll, even though the food itself is not all that different from, say, SPAM or scrapple. (Don't ask. I'll let my Philly friends to try to explain that one.)
No, I'll cut my fellow North Jerseyans some slack. They call it "Taylor ham" because it actually used to be called that. Before 1906, this magical meat was known as John Taylor's Ham. But, according to a court case cited by Wiki, Taylor's tasty treat no longer fit the legal definition of "ham" because of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. So Taylor had to change the name to "pork roll." (By the way, check out the Wiki entry for Taylor ham. Hahahaha!)
North Jerseyans, therefore, are living in the past. They can't let it go. But they're not alone. There are many Central Jerseyans that cling to this outdated and legally incorrect name.
In the middle of it all
Again, yeah, I said it. Central Jerseyans. There is a Central Jersey. Whether you northerners or southerners like it or not, there is indeed one. Central Jersey.
I've had the pleasure (burden?) of living and working in North Jersey and South Jersey, but I was born and mostly raised in Monmouth County in Central Jersey.
When I lived in South Jersey, my old boss, Pete, would rag on me for being from "North Jersey." It's true, at the time I took the job at The Press of Atlantic City (which is in Pleasantville), I had been living in beautiful Bayonne, one of North Jersey's most notorious municipalities. "North Jersey is just a parking lot for New York City," Pete used to tell me when he was breaking my balls. I secretly agreed, but I didn't want to back down.
"But I wasn't born in North Jersey. I wasn't raised there," I countered. "I'm from Central Jersey."
He laughed in my face. Cackled, actually. "There is no Central Jersey."
"Well, where do you think North Jersey begins?" I challenged him.
"Oh, around exit 90," he said in that definitive way of his. This was no debate. It was fact. To answer back would be futile.
So, according to Pete, North Jersey ends and South Jersey begins right after exit 90 on the Garden State Parkway. This would be around Toms River and Seaside Heights.
Now, my good North Jersey friend Marty, who is reminds me of what Pete would have been like when he was in his late 20s, is adamant that North Jersey ends and South Jersey begins right around the Driscoll Bridge in the Edison/Old Bridge area, around exit 127 on the Parkway. I contest this point whenever I get a chance.
"I'm not from South Jersey. Keansburg isn't in South Jersey," I say.
"You got a beach there, don't you? Then it's South Jersey," he'll respond with a definitive tone similar to Pete's.
Okay, so where does that leave us? Neither north nor south can agree on where the other starts and ends, and there's a big zone of contention in the middle, or central, part of the state roughly between exits 127 and 90. This is Central Jersey.
This is where proud Giants fans and whiny, belligerent Eagles fans blend together, somehow peacefully. (Everyone knows that the Jets are an NYC and Long Island team. Marty and my friend Neil, a fellow Central Jerseyan, are sure to be riled by this statement.) This is where "pork roll" and "Taylor ham" are used interchangeably. This is where Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi live.
This area, much like pork roll, is the essence of New Jersey.
I'll let some nice boys from New Hope, Pa., of all places have the final word on pork roll, but please, by all means, feel free to disagree or agree with me in the comments below.
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