Other than "spotted dick," what food has a less appetizing name than liver mush? It's almost as if they don't want you to eat it.
But if you're from central North Carolina, you know liver mush as crispy, creamy comfort food. The main content is pig's liver—plus whatever porcine scrap is at hand—spices for taste, and enough cornmeal that it crisps in a pan. Your grandmother might have fried up patties of it for sandwiches or plated it with eggs on chilly school mornings.
In Marion, at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Liver Mush Festival celebrates this heritage for one fun- and fat-filled evening. (Health.com ranked liver mush No. 32 among the 50 fattiest foods in the States.)
On Friday, June 6, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in its Historic Downtown, Marion fêtes the savory stuff with free sandwiches from event sponsor Hunter's Liver Mush as well as pig, duck and goat races, live music, kids' activities such as pony rides and—calm yourself—a Liver Mush Eating Contest. Contestants aspire to down 10 liver mush sandwiches in five minutes. Famed hot dog eater Takeru Kobayashi might not be competing, but this promises to be great gastronomical sport.
In the Triangle, liver mush and its slightly smoother sister, liver pudding, have crept into foodie culture. Halfway between pâté and sausage, bricks of Neese's and Hunter's mush are available in the sausage section of local grocery stores. And Durham's Scratch Bakery offers an updated liver mush sandwich on its weekend brunch menu. Owner and chef Phoebe Lawless tops a crisp rectangle of mush with green tomato pickles and slathers yellow mustard on thick white toast. She tweaked the recipe for texture and taste. Mush is at least 30 percent pork liver by law, but there's plenty of room to experiment.
"The one that we do has some shoulder in it as well," Lawless says. "Pork liver is pretty intense. It's usually padded out, for flavor, with other cuts. Ours is from local pasture hocks and not commodity pork."
Regardless of the recipe, mush is deep cultural eating. Scratch's mail carrier buys sandwiches regularly—for his grandmother.
In the event of rain, the 8th Annual Liver Mush Festival moves to the Historic Marion Tailgate Market, and if you miss this mush fest, Shelby, has its own in October. "I love liver mush," Lawless laughs. "It's just a really great North Carolina food tradition that's fallen out of fashion."