If you’re a WNC native (or you’ve lived here for a while), there’s a good chance you’re familiar with livermush, a unique food you can only find in the region. While its name may not sou appetizing, livermush is exactly what it sounds like: a blend of ground scrap pork meat + liver, and spices bound with enough cooked cornmeal mush to make it sliceable. It’s so popular, it’s even celebrated annually at festivals in Shelby and Marion, making it one of North Carolina’s most important and legendary food traditions.
Although the composition is similar to liver pudding (which you can find in the eastern part of the state) and scrapple (commonly found in Mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey), livermush differs from these two with its liver content + binding element. Scrapple tends to contain less liver, whereas livermush has a higher ratio of liver — at least 30 percent, and liver pudding is made with flour, and therefore has a softer consistency.
People generally eat it for breakfast alongside eggs, or in a sandwich with a squirt of yellow mustard. It is sold in brick-shaped blocks that are cut into slices that are then fried. Unlike other Southern foodstuffs like country ham or chitlins, livermush never really captured a wider audience across the South, which some folks attribute to its blue collar roots and unappealing name.
Food historians trace its origins to German immigrants who ate something called pon hoss, (pork scraps blended with buckwheat and spices) and then brought it to America during the 1700s. The food ultimately came south to the mountains and Piedmont, where it wound up on WNC farms. Hardworking, frugal farmers who didn’t want to waste any part of their hogs cut the meat scraps with readily available cornmeal, which helped them feed more people.
Livermush also enjoyed popularity during the Great Depression because it was an affordable substitute for more expensive cuts of meat. While many families, including Editor Brook’s, made their own, it’s no wonder the commercial livermush business was born during this time. Interestingly enough, the 5 commercial livermush producers — Corriher’s, Hunter’s, Jenkins, Mack’s, and Neese’s — are all based in WNC counties.
Wanna celebrate livermush locally? Marion’s 2021 Livermush Festival has been cancelled, but Shelby’s 2021 Mush, Music & Mutts Festival — including the Little Miss Livermush Pageant — will take place Oct. 16.