Growing up on a farm in the rural Piedmont region of North Carolina, we ate a lot of home grown food. Fresh eggs, chicken, fish from the pond. And plenty of pork chops, spare ribs, and roast pork BBQ because apparently pigs are easy to grow. My family had some land but otherwise we were relatively poor. There was a focus on food preservation. Fresh fruits and vegetables were plentiful and correspondingly we canned a LOT for winter food supplies. Lots of tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, corn, okra. Jams and jellies and preserves. So many pickles. Pickled beets. Pickled okra. Pickled eggs. Pickled pigs feet.
But aside from eating tough old laying hens when they stopped laying, our meat was mostly pork. Supposedly you can eat every part of a pig but the lungs. What pork we didn't eat fresh got processed into homemade country ham, bacon, sausage, lard, as well as other things seemingly less appetizing because my great-grandfather never wasted ANYTHING. Head cheese. Scrapple. Then there were... UGH... chitt'lin's. But that's a subject for a whole other writeup. Today I want to talk about one specific processed meat... livermush.
The name itself turns a lot of people off. Liver. Mush. What could sound less appetizing? But I'm here to enlighten you. It's delicious. And I'm not just saying that because I grew up eating it for breakfast and acquired a strange taste for it. It's legitimately fantastic. Some people hate it, but they are demonstrably wrong.
Livermush is similar to scrapple that can be found in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other mid-Atlantic states. However the focus is on liver and not other variety meats and offal so livermush has a very distinctive (and I say vastly superior) taste compared to scrapple. It's basically ground pork liver, pork meat (from any part of the pig but I prefer the head meat), flour, cornmeal, and seasonings. It forms a loaf that can be sliced thick or thin and fried a crispy golden brown. It's commonly paired with eggs on a breakfast platter or eaten on a biscuit with mustard. For lunch it can be made into a sandwich with a little Duke's mayonnaise, either fried crispy or sliced mushy right off the loaf. There's another very similar regional dish called liver pudding, but it has a smoother texture with less grainy crispiness. Probably has less corn meal in it? I wouldn't know, I wouldn't deign to touch the stuff.
Like its cousin scrapple, livermush was born of the desire to waste as little as possible and was made at home by rural folks who raised their own meat. But its popularity with generations of locals means that it can be had at the supermarket; although there are only a handful of brands of commercially produced livermush, most centered around Marion, NC. People who grew up here are split into "love it" or "hate it" camps, but most love it. There are even a few Livermush Festivals. It's a remnant of our Appalachian cultural heritage of thriftiness and resourcefulness. And it doesn't hurt that it's damn tasty.
Here's a basic recipe for processing some liver mush, in case you don't have pig head meat laying around.
1 pork liver
- 2 1/2 lb. pork shoulder or butt
- 1 cup minced fresh sage
- 4 tbsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
Trim the liver and the pork butt and remove any silver skin
. Dice them up into small cubes. Put them in a large stockpot, just barely covering them in water, then bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cooking them covered for about 3 hours. Remove the meat from the heat and let it cool completely.
Grind the meat with a meat grinder
or food processor then put the mash back in the water you cooked it in. Add salt, pepper, and sage, and boil it again. While it's heating back up, sift together the flour and cornmeal
. Once it's back to a rolling boil, gradually (a few tablespoons at a time) incorporate the flour/cornmeal mixture. Stir it until it's thick and uniform and then pour it in small loaf
pans or other molds as you desire. Let it sit out for an hour at room temperature to cool, then you can put it in the fridge covered to cool overnight.
When you're ready to eat it, slice some off and fry it in oil over medium heat until it's golden brown and crispy. My personal recommendation is to slice it about 3/8 of an inch thick and deep fry it, completely submerged in oil. This gets the outside nice and crispy and leaves just the littlest bit of tasty mush on the inside. Try it on toast with an egg, mayo, cheddar, salt, and pepper. You'll thank me. Or curse me.