Liver mush – a North Carolina treat from way back when
June 8th, 2011
07:00 AM ET
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This summer, CNN's Defining America project will be traveling the country with the CNN Express bus to explore the stories behind the data and demographics that show how places are changing. This week, CNN brings you coverage from North Carolina.

There was a time when every North Carolina family loved – or at least knew – liver mush. It's the cuisine of grandma's house, snow days and simpler times, a local delicacy some natives defend with the same loyalty they have to Carolina barbecue and Cheerwine.

Back then, it was the economical way to get some meat in your diet when times were tough, a high-iron addition to a kid's lunch, or a fried-till-crispy comfort breakfast beside fat slices of tomato and muskmelon.

Its history was entered into the Congressional Record in 1993. It has its own festivals in Marion, Shelby and other places around the Carolina Piedmont.

But North Carolina is a different place now. In the last decade, it was one of the fastest-growing states, one suddenly populated by retirees who headed south for mild weather and pretty beaches, students gunning for tech jobs and bankers in search of good schools and big yards.

This crowd is more likely to know liver mush from the Travel Channel than their local Harris Teeter market.

But still, you'll find it on grocery store shelves in North Carolina, parts of South Carolina and Virginia. When CNN's Defining America project stopped in North Carolina, we checked in with the Neese family, makers and purveyors of country sausage and liver mush since 1917.
Neese family
The family recipe is a secret, of course, but know that it's at least 30 percent liver – if a label uses the word liver, the law requires it, co-president Andrea Neese said – plus cornmeal and spices. The rest is just pig, no preservatives, no additives.

Oh, there have been shifts and additions over the years. Early on, chief executive Tom Neese explained, the family sold its product as liver pudding, but buyers west of the Yadkin River called it liver mush. It was all the same thing, but with different names on local menus. Now it's two products, liver pudding the smoother cold cut, while liver mush is a little drier.

And then there's scrapple. It's similar, but even coarser than liver mush, and less likely to be sliced, fried and served on a piece of toast like its brick-meat brethren. It's a relative newcomer to their lineup, added just a couple decades ago. The family scrapped recipe after recipe before landing on one that seemed to get it right.

See, scrapple isn't their specialty. It isn't a North Carolina staple; it's more like a business decision best enjoyed with scrambled eggs.

"We had so many northerners coming down here, we decided to produce scrapple," Andrea Neese said.

But getting liver pudding or mush into the mouths of a new generation is a struggle, the Neeses admit.

"The problem," Tom Neese said, "is the word 'liver.'"

No kid wants to eat liver. The word "mush" probably isn't doing them any favors either, they admitted. Toss the word "pudding" around, and you're just going to leave a bunch of kids disappointed.

They've talked about an advertising campaign to ask people what dolled up name they'd give it, but they're skeptical of change, whether it's the name or the packaging. The recipes are untouchable.

"You make one change, and it's a bad change, and they'll know it," Tom Neese said.

But there's hope for this old fashioned North Carolina dish.

If you hit a Greensboro Grasshoppers duke it out with the Hagerstown Suns or any other South Atlantic League baseball team this summer, you'll see packages of Neese's sausage racing around the bases between innings.

It still draws a crowd at the North Carolina State Fair, where people will show up with slices of bread and a request for a plus-sized sample. Mail-order sales have gone to homesick liver mush fans all over the country. Sales spike every holiday season, and when there's snow in the weather forecast, a sign that comfort food reigns when people are coming home, or stuck at home.

Retailers like that the Neeses themselves answer the phones and that Neese company trucks still make deliveries.

"If a store calls and is out of product, within six to eight hours, we have the ability to get that product to them," co-president Tommy Neese said. "We still want to have that personal touch."

The Neeses said they know all their employees names. Andrea and Tommy are the fourth generation in the business. Tom Neese is 77 and insists he's on the way out – but he keeps showing up to work. I talked with outside their red brick building in Greensboro, in a trailer they said they're making into Tom's office, if they can ever pry him away from the phones.

At least one in the next generation is a vegetarian – her family members call it "a phase" – but some are already working summers with them in Greensboro, or in the harvesting plant.

"Our father has 11 grandchildren," Andrea Neese said. "Somebody will make the decision to come."

Liver mush, after all, has always been a family affair.

Editor's note: As it happens, our Managing Editor has Neese's liver mush, liver pudding, souse and C-loaf in her fridge at this very moment. She mentions this at every possible opportunity she has.

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Filed under: Cultural Identity • Culture • Defining America • Food History • North Carolina • Obsessions • Southern • Travel


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soundoff (289 Responses)
  1. xina

    Liver pudding is the only liver product I have ever been willing to eat. I'm picky about it. Must be fried crispy...my family doesn't use any grease...it provides its own. Two slices of bread and DUKE'S mayonnaise (for there is no better).

    My great aunt moved to Georgia many years ago. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and faded fast. Liver pudding was her last requested meal. We drove 8 hours to bring and make her and the family Neese's liver pudding sandwiches.

    March 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  2. Donna Long

    My grandfather, John Long from Gastonia, NC, made and sold Long's Livermush for years and it was absolutely the best. I remember watching them make it in the big vats and the smell was amazing.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  3. Tina Hudspeth

    My husband intrdoused me to liver pudding and it was love at first bite .But I can't find it anywhere where I live in Ky and I would love to have some .is there a way to order some Nesses liver pudding .thank you T.Hudspeth

    December 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  4. Sharon

    I just finished a liver mush sandwich. First one I have had in well over 2 years. I am originally from N.C. and used to visit often after moving to Cleveland as a child. We would visit and bring it home or relatives would come north and bring it for us. We have used this method for getting our mush for over 50 years. As the years have went by we don't go as often. A friend just relocated to N.C. about a year ago but he is NOT familiar with the liver mush craze. When I learned he was coming to visit his mom for Thanksgiving I jumped right on it and he brought 10 very small packs of Frank Corriher mush. I am a Hunter's fan but this stuff wasn't bad. I have never had hot liver mush but not bad. Needless to say after sharing my liver mush with my displaced brothers and sisters there is very little left. I don't like it after it has been frozen so we eat it quickly which is not hard to do. My grandson's will not even be in the room while I am cooking or eating it so I fear when all of us old timers are gone that will be the end of our liver mush saga. I like it fried crispy and on white bread with NOTHING on it. I love reading stories about people's experiences with liver mush!!

    November 27, 2013 at 11:39 am | Reply
    • Margaret

      If you love Hunter's you were from the foothills. Their address is Hunter's, 98 Poteat Road, Marion, NC 28752. Let them know how much you like their liver mush. They were started in 1955. I am getting ready to go cook supper (liver mush and eggs). Merry Christmas to you and yours.

      December 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  5. Perry Huffman

    I'm a native of North Carolina, grew up eating Neeses liver mush to me there's no other brand. I've been in Arkansas for almost 35 years. We go to N.C. every couple of years,because you can't find it anywhere but N.C. I wish the company would expand so I could get it here, but I don't know where it would be fesible profitable for the comany, maybe one day.

    November 16, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
  6. Todd

    Had it today for the first time and loved it. From Canada and need this recipe. toddnugent123@gmail.com

    November 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  7. Deb

    I'm a native North Carolinian, and I absolutely love Neese's liver pudding! Neese's is the ONLY brand I'll buy as theirs is the best I've ever tasted. I fry a slice or two in the mornings and eat it with eggs. It's also great sandwiched in a biscuit. My favorite breakfast!

    September 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  8. Earl Robertson

    I had the pleasure of working for the Neese's back in the early 80's delivering in the Charlotte area.I had never tasted liver pudding before that time.I've been a fan of it ever since and it taste as good now as it did way back then.Their souse meat is just as good too!

    September 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  9. Sue Dodd

    My sister and I are craving it so much. Grew up in NC and ate it all our lives but now live in Oklahoma. Have been looking everywhere to buy and get shipped out here. Neese's don't ship to where I live. Love my liver pudding.

    July 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  10. DAVID ICARD

    I HAVE LIVED IN N.C. ALL MY LIFE AND LOVE LIVERMUSH HAVE EVEN MADE LIVER MUSH IT GOES GOOD WITH MUSTARD OR DUKES MAYO

    March 12, 2013 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • Cheech N. Chong™@DAVID ICARD

      Dave's not here...

      March 12, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Keith Patton

      Being from the Shenandoah Valley of Va. we made scrapple every year when we butchered. Made it in large iron kettles over an open fire using the liver and other sweetbreads not designated for other things and scrap meat. It is more corn meal than meat and has less liver flavor than most commercial varieties. We eat it sliced and fried like sausage, either soft or crunchy and with salt and pepper or maple syrup. Its primarily a breakfast food.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • shirley sanders

      will be traveling to n.c. the first week of sept. I need to bring back livermush. Is it okay to freeze. will be flying

      August 23, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Reply
      • Randy Kees

        You can freeze livermush, but the problem is when you thaw the mush it has a tendency to crumble. When we make it home, we always bring it back just chilled. When we get it home, we slice it and put wax paper between each slice and freeze in freezer bags. I won't even thaw it before I fry it so that one side gets a crust and it easier to flip without it breaking apart.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  11. John

    I grew up in southern PA eating hominy and pudding as we called it. I've been stationed in Virginia for about a year now and I just recently found a local butcher that has "pudding"... my wife looks at me like I'm eating dog feces whenever I make it, but it's awesome :D

    February 2, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
  12. gene taylor

    a ritz cracker,livermush & valveeta. make your tounge slap your eye teeth out of your mouth. as soon as neeses has there online site ready, neeses will be coming to panama city,fl.

    January 14, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Reply
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