The Livermush Belt. You in the Piedmont know what I’m talking about…that string of counties from Cleveland to Guildford, where you can order a livermush sandwich on any given day.
Poor man’s paté they call it, a meat substance so indigenous to North Carolina that Tar Heel ex-pats have been known to to smuggle it out in coolers to far reaches of the country.
I first encountered the stuff when I moved here in the 1970s. I’d grown up with cornmeal mush in the Cornbelt, but livermush? I eyed the khaki-gray block suspiciously in the grocery store cooler.
We’re talking pork liver, head parts (don’t ask) and cornmeal. Fried crispy and served on a bun with slaw is how I order mine, though most prefer it with mustard. Others insist on livermush served with eggs, grits and biscuits.
Livermush is an acquired taste that few outsiders care to acquire, yet this former Midwesterner has managed to do it with aplomb. I’ve even made my pilgrimage to Shelby’s Livermush Festival and bought the t-shirt.
Some Yankees call it scrapple. I wasn’t convinced that “scrapple” was a real name until I visited the far reaches of Virginia within an hour of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Sure enough, the diner sign read, “Yes, we have scrapple” as if to say “Warning, Pennsylvania ahead.”
I’ve never seen such signage in North Carolina. “Yes we have livermush” isn’t necessary. We all know livermush is served here from menus to sandwich boards with moveable letters: grilled cheese, pimiento cheese, fried bologna and livermush.
Livermush isn’t to be confused with its cousin liver pudding that’s made without cornmeal. You’ll find that version east of the Yadkin River, a divide that roughly defines North Carolina’s ongoing barbecue war, but I digress.
Pick your maker—Jenkins, Mack’s, Hunter’s, Neese’s—it’s all classic fare that isn’t as low-brow as you might think. One lady recently confessed to serving the stuff as genuine paté to cocktail party guests.
So why is livermush so popular here?
Some say the Great Depression. Others point to the meat-starved years of Reconstruction. Unquestionably, livermush is cheap, filling food for lean times, and there have been plenty of those in Carolina mill towns.
Truth be told, the historic dots connect back to Pennsylvania. The North Carolina Piedmont is where scrapple-wise German settlers called it quits after lumbering down the Great Wagon Road in the 18th century. We can thank them for turning this into the Land of Livermush. We can credit the lean years of history for keeping it that way.