In a state with more pigs than people, thrifty North Carolinians raising their own hogs in the eighteenth century took inspiration from German and Scotch-Irish dishes made from underused pig parts and created their own version: livermush.
They ground pig’s liver and head meat and mixed it with cornmeal, salt, pepper, and sage to form something akin to a caseless sausage, then sliced it, lightly fried it, and served it in a sandwich or biscuit, slathered in mustard. But like many old-school Southern delicacies (pig brains and eggs; poke salat; sour-orange pie), livermush fell out of favor in the latter half of the twentieth century as big-box stores and fast-food chains chased out local customs.
“Livermush is a regional staple that’s not appreciated like it ought to be,” says Freddie Killough, who fourteen years ago helped start a festival in Marion that honors the stuff. For Killough, the roots of livermush run deep; she grew up in McDowell County in a family that made livermush from hogs they raised and butchered themselves. Hunter’s—a family business established in Marion in 1955—still makes livermush with a small team of employees (many of them Hunter relatives) and sells it at every grocery store in town, including West Court Food Center and JB’s Galaxy. You can also find it at gas stations, supermarkets, and lunch counters throughout the region, or make a batch at home with recipes from Livermush Cookbook, written by North Carolinians Darrell and Morgan Rice.