Livermush: What Is This North Carolina Favorite?

It sounds unappealing, but it has a history in the Tar Heel State

On the left, livermush as it's purchased. On the right, the most traditional way to prepare livermush. Artie Beaty

Livermush. The mention of the word brings to mind one of two things: a versatile meat, served primarily for breakfast, or a response of, "I'm not sure what that is, but it sounds really gross." Whoever named the dish wasn't doing it any favors. Neither "liver" nor "mush" conjures up a good meal for most people. And let's face it, it really doesn't look that appetizing. When the ingredients list consists of "pork liver and head parts" and the name literally consists of the word "mush," there must be some good reason this food has thrived, right?

Livermush is such a part of the North Carolina culture that there's an entire festival devoted to it. "Mush, Music, and Mutts," (or, simply "the livermush festival" as locals know it) is generally held in October in the town of Shelby (but you'll also find smaller livermush festivals in the towns of Drexel and Marion).

What Is Livermush?

Primarily consisting of ingredients like pig liver and cornmeal, and generally seasoned with sage and black pepper, livermush is all formed together in a rectangular loaf. It's really just made up of what's left of the pig after the good parts are taken and used. It's not far from scrapple that you would find in Mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania and Delaware. The only difference is scrapple has a little less cornmeal and a different amount of liver (scrapple could have more, less, or even no liver at all).

As the name implies, liver is a required part of livermush. You'll only find livermush in North Carolina and now and then in South Carolina and Virginia.

Where Did Livermush Come From?

If the question is where does livermush come from, just take a look at a few of the ingredients listed above: head parts and pork liver. The specifics are best left unsaid. But if you're asking where did it come from, as in the history of it, that's an easier answer.

There are a few different theories as to how this regional dish was born. The first is that it became popular in rural North Carolina during the Civil War. Simply out of desperation, and not wanting to waste anything edible, locals made generally unusable pig parts into a ground mix. Another theory claims that the meat became a staple during the Great Depression because it's cheap to make and can be prepared in a variety of ways for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Both of those theories hinge on the fact that livermush is fairly inexpensive and can be prepared in a number of different ways. While both of those stories probably hold true, ultimately, historians think that the mixture was probably brought to the Appalachian Mountains by German settlers who came down from the Pennsylvania region, which also explains why it's similar to scrapple found a little further north.

How to Make Livermush

Livermush isn't something you usually "make" on your own. There are a few recipes online, but it's generally left to professional processing companies. The most common way to prepare livermush is to cut a slice off of a block and fry it until it's golden brown. It's then served for breakfast alongside eggs or grits. It's also popular as a sandwich meat for lunch or dinner, and plenty of people swear by putting a slice on a bun with grape jelly. You'll sometimes find it as an ingredient in omelets and as a pizza topping.

The Shelby Livermush Festival

If you're really a fan of livermush, you'll want to head to Shelby in October to be around plenty of like-minded folks. At Shelby's Livermush Festival, there's plenty of livermush to sample, of course (with a variety of preparations), a fall festival on the court square with activities for kids, a pet parade, two outdoor stages, and the crowning of "Little Miss Livermush."