What is Livermush?

Cassie L. Damewood

Livermush is a ground mixture of pork liver, corn meal and spices. It sometimes contains other pieces of the hog’s head to provide flavor and texture. It is traditionally packed into a loaf pan, chilled and sliced before serving. By United States law, it must contain at least 30% pork liver. In some areas, it is known as poor man’s or poor boy’s pate.

Cornmeal, one of the ingredients in livermush.
Cornmeal, one of the ingredients in livermush.

Created in the Southern United States, livermush is rumored to have its roots in North Carolina. Much like scrapple, a similar mixture that uses more parts of the hog and a lesser percentage of liver, livermush supposedly became a staple during the Depression, as it was economical to make. It could also be prepared in several ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

A pig, which is used in making livermush.
A pig, which is used in making livermush.

For breakfast, it is typically sliced and fried in bacon grease, oil or butter. The corn meal in it makes it nicely brown in the skillet. It is traditionally served alongside eggs, grits and toast. Grape jelly is a common accompaniment. At lunch, it is often sliced and served cold on white bread with mustard or mayonnaise as a condiment. In recent years, it has been used as a pizza topping and a filling for omelets.

A related product called liver pudding has the same ingredients as livermush except for the cornmeal. It is smoother in texture and cannot be sliced. North Carolina residents claim liver pudding is made by people who live east of the Yadkin River, and people on the west of the river make livermush.

Though it is not clear why North Carolina is considered the birthplace of the poor boy’s pate, several factors may have been influential. Hogs were popular livestock in North Carolina, as they flourished in the hot, humid atmosphere that cattle could not withstand. Wild pigs typically roamed the land in North Carolina and were plentiful and popular sources of food.

When farmers butchered hogs, they used every part of the animal. When it came to serving the hog’s liver, many people found the taste of the liver objectionable. To make it more palatable, it was ground up with other pig parts and mixed with corn meal and spices to make livermush.

Livermush is available today, though only a handful of companies still make it. It can be ordered online or found in the sausage or frozen food departments of some supermarkets worldwide. It is sold fresh throughout northern Virginia, North Carolina, and southern South Carolina. An annual Livermush Festival has been held in Shelby, North Carolina, since 1987.

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