Often at Cook’s Corner we delve into the unfamiliar as we try to find a remembered taste. Ollie Blake of Homestead asked for help making livermush for her grandfather, who missed the sandwiches his mom packed for lunch when he was growing up in South Carolina.
“I think it’s liverwurst,” guessed Jill G. of Ohio, and Suzanne Irving agreed, adding that it is also called braunschweiger.
“I bet it is just a homey version of goose liver paté,” said Guy Marion of Miami.
“It’s probably a Southern colloquialism for Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple,” said Paul Hertzberg of Allentown, Pa.
“I live in the land of livermush,” says Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis. “Livermush and liver pudding are big subjects around here. Almost as controversial as barbecue.”
She has written authoritatively about livermush, which she says is, by law, at least 30 percent pork liver, plus other pork meat – usually including meat from the head – cooked until it falls apart. Then it’s ground, mixed with cornmeal, seasoned and chilled in a block.
“Sliced and pan-fried, it’s a breakfast meat. Sliced cold, it’s a sandwich filling. Any way you slice it, it tastes like country sausage with a hint of liver. Some people say liver pudding is South Carolina’s version, thickened with rice. Others say livermush is just called liver pudding east of the Yadkin River, probably because it sounds nicer. If you’re from Pennsylvania, all this might sound familiar. Both liver pudding and livermush are believed to have derived from scrapple, brought down through the Appalachians by German settlers.”
“Growing up in North Carolina, it was not unusual to have livermush for breakfast or lunch,” said Heather Padgett of Belville, N.C. “Mom would slice it up and fry it until it was crispy on the outside (it would still be mushy on the inside), and serve it with scrambled eggs, or on a sandwich.”
“My son-in-law loves it and brought a block of it for me to try,” writes Diane Davis. “He’s from Maiden, N.C., and grew up on it. I’m from California and never knew of it, though I knew about scrapple. Each place makes its own version, but there are general guidelines for it. I’m not a fan of it, but if that’s all there is to eat, then I’ll eat it.”
“I will not presume to say I know what livermush is,” writes Ibby Voorhees, “but it figures prominently as the favorite food of church sexton Russell Jacks in Jan Karon’s Mitford series of novels. The books are set in a small North Carolina mountain town. The protagonist is the local parish’s Anglican priest. The characters are wonderful. Jacks is laid up in bed and counts on Father Tim to bring him his livermush because he can’t get it while recuperating at Nurse Betty’s.”
Glenda Schuessler of Watertown, N.Y., says she has been rereading Karon’s series, and when she encountered livermush she turned to a companion cookbook, Jan Karon’s Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader (Viking, 2004). Karon’s instructions:
“Cut three half-inch-thick slices from a loaf of Neese’s or Jenkins livermush. Fry in sizzling hot, but not smoking, bacon grease, until golden brown (about 60 seconds on each side). Turn the slices over and repeat. Drain your livermush on a paper towel, and spread mayonnaise on two slices of white bread. … Then you smash the three pieces of livermush between the two bread slices and mash it down with the heel of your hand as flat as it will go.” You can find more about livermush at mitfordbooks.com.
As to a recipe, if anyone really wants it, write or email me and I’ll send one to you, provided by Linda Jennings of Gray, Ga. If you happen to be in the Western Carolinas or within 100 miles of Charlotte, you can find it in some grocery stores. You can also order livermush or liver pudding at neesesausage.com. Or settle for its close cousin scrapple, which is more readily available in large supermarkets all over the country.
Thanks also to Leo Moore of Kendall, Judy Nesbit of Washington State, Laralee of Highpoint, N.C., and W.T. from Wilmington, N.C., for sharing their livermush expertise.