North Carolina April 11, 2017
Why People Go Crazy For Livermush In Small Town North Carolina
Just the sound of the word ‘livermush’ doesn’t conjure up the most pleasant thought. How could something be so delicious with such an off-putting name? While I’ve passed it more than a few times in the grocery store and even been in its presence, honestly, I’ve always been a bit too scared to try it.
Yet, for many in the southern Piedmont and foothills region of the state, livermush isn’t just a dish served with grits and eggs at breakfast, it’s a way of life, it’s a staple food item that is ingrained in the culture. From grandparents to award-winning chefs to a quick and hearty breakfast that you prepare in your own kitchen, livermush transcends North Carolina culture and maybe we all should swallow our fear (literally) and give it a try.
In Lenoir and surrounding small towns in the foothills of North Carolina, livermush is king. Gas stations serve it with a smidgen of mustard. In Shelby, two competing manufacturers, Jenkins Foods and Mack's Liver Mush & Meats, operate not too far from each other. Here, people grow up frying it for breakfast, eating it with eggs, putting it between a biscuit, or even eating it as-is.
Simply enough, livermush is pig liver, head parts, and cornmeal for binding. Its roots trace back to German settlers. In its primal state, livermush was believed to be 'pon hoss,' pork scraps mixed with spices and buckwheat. Today, livermush is mixed with pepper and sage. Not to be confused with its eastern North Carolina counterpart, liver pudding, livermush is coarser in texture and derives from a different recipe.
Like many odd food traditions passed down through generations, livermush started as a way to not waste any meat including pig scraps and liver. Jenkins Food in Shelby has been in business for decades. Their production can reach an astonishing 26,000 pounds per week. Around the corner, Mack's Liver Mush and Meats is now run by a third-generation owner, Ron McKee, who stays loyal to his product by eating livermush each morning.
Livermush is traditionally made by cutting a slice off a pre-made loaf and frying it in a greased skillet. Then it's served along grits and eggs for a hearty breakfast.
While livermush revolves around small towns in the foothills, it still reaches the booming metropolis of Charlotte. Brooks Sandwich House, a beloved no-fuss, straight up establishment, still serves it. Brooks has been around for far longer than its corner neighbor, Heist Brewery.
It has persisted in a tucked away, side lot near an underpass in Charlotte's art district of NoDA. Renovated houses have transformed into tattoo shops, Heist serves an elaborate, curated menu along with craft beer, not too far of a drive down the road in the 'Villa Heights' neighborhood, an arcade bar and an inventive doughnut shop. Yet, Brooks clings to tradition and southern roots despite a changing Charlotte culture which prefers to demolish something old and build something new. Their livermush sandwich can be served 'all the way' with onions, mustard and chili, a safe bet if it's your first time trying it.
Pictured above - Andrew Zimmerman from Travel Channel's 'Bizarre Foods' seems equal parts skeptical and satisfied with his first bite of livermush. Next to him, former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander.
Even once you hop on the highway and give Brooks one last glance, you can try some more livermush in festive fashion at Shelby's annual Mush, Music & Mutts Festival. Held each October, the festival attracts hundreds if not thousands and celebrates the food product so unique to this region. Nearby Marion in McDowell County also has its own livermush festival. Voted one of the 'Top 50 Summer Festivals & Events near Asheville' by Romantic Asheville, the festival brings the small town to life with a livermush eating contest, live music, best dressed pig contest, and free Hunter's Liver Mush sandwiches (made in Marion). While livermush is certainly a wildly unique product and undoubtedly not for everyone, its history, celebration and legacy make it one of the most legendary food products in North Carolina; second to BBQ, of course.
Livermush is such a unique food item! Have you mustered up the courage to try it? Did you grow up eating it? What are your thoughts on livermush?
It’s no surprise I love unique food items with amazing backstories, like this
one biscuit shop in North Carolina I truly think might just be the best in the state.