Why Livermush Will Always Be a North Carolina Favorite
Livermush needs better PR, starting with its name. Despite the pinpoint accuracy, the words liver and mush are not alluring. What if we instead called it paté? Livermush is a well-made, well-seasoned, liver-rich spread, just like many patés and terrines.
Livermush is a puree of pig’s liver and spices bound with enough cooked cornmeal mush to make it moldable and sliceable. The higher proportion of cornmeal is what distinguishes livermush from liver pudding. It shares lineage with scrapple, souse, head cheese, goetta, and other scrape-together pork products, but it’s not the same. Livermush is fully cooked, but not smoked. Smooth, but not slick. Rich, but not greasy. Seasoned, but not spicy.
Livermush could pass for paté, but it would be out of place a charcuterie board. A Southern breakfast plate is its rightful home, served alongside eggs or sandwiched between slices of toast or light bread, or maybe on a biscuit. Although there’s no need to cook livermush, many people prefer it cut into thin slices and seared in a cast-iron skillet until browned and crisp. Unlike sausage or bacon, livermush is never the base of gravy because it renders almost no pan drippings. A big squirt of yellow mustard is the preferred condiment, although there are people who will smear a little Duke’s on all sandwiches.
Livermush hails from North Carolina, specifically a few rural counties in the western foothills where textile mills and furniture factories once hummed, places where workers needed a ready-made food that was tasty, affordable, and filling. Things have slowed and changed in these towns in recent decades, but livermush remains a fixture of local tastes and main street celebrations. Consider Mush, Music and Mutts in Shelby, North Carolina’s official (but not only) livermush festival, where for a day each year, the downtown swells to 10,000 people seeking a big time and a little livermush.
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Unlike bacon and country ham or, for that matter, chitlins, livermush never took off and captured a wider palate and audience across the South. Livermush is sold only here and there in the South, and all five remaining commercial producers are in North Carolina.
These days it seems that two camps of people enjoy livermush, what there is of it. One is the diminishing group who grew up eating it, probably served to them by a grandparent who loved the stuff and wanted to pass along a taste of hometown pride on the family table. The other is those who are willing to give it a try (despite the name) and discover that it’s a delicious paté that lacks a pedigree, and a real bargain at $3 or so per pound. If fancy restaurants put it on menus under an alias, seared livermush on toast would sell like crazy. Livermush just needs better PR, and yellow mustard.