Years ago when I was very homesick and living in Maryland I bought two books- Adam Lucas’ The Best Game Ever and Bob Garner’s Guide to North Carolina Barbecue. Reading about the historic 1957 UNC team that my grandfather was a part of and the foods from home that I missed so dearly made me feel a little better, a little more connected to home. Those books made me feel as though even while I was not living in North Carolina, North Carolina was a part of me, always.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Garner, and I was immediately reminded me of that feeling, that desire to connect with my roots. His most recent book, Foods That Make You Say Mmm-mm, takes him across the state, looking into the regional foods and food traditions that are unique to North Carolina. As he puts it, some foods have “stuck” more than others to North Carolina. Yes, you can find traditional Southern foods throughout the state, but there are some foods that you can only find in little pockets of North Carolina, and that’s what he’s exploring.
photographs courtesy of Bob Garner
Talking to Bob is like taking a masters level course in North Carolina food culture. As soon as I held the book I knew he would be an incredible resource for Tasting North Carolina, and so I took advantage of our conversation to ask him his input. As expected, he had a lot of amazing suggestions. We talked about the sonker of Surry County, the muddle of Lenoir County, and the liver mush of Cleveland County.
Cleveland County is located in Western North Carolina and is, among other things, the home of Earl Scruggs. It is also the home of Livermush, a pate-like dish that is comprised of pork liver, head meats, and cornmeal. Despite the rather off-putting name (it’s sometimes called liver pudding), liver mush is a beloved Cleveland County treat, a legacy of the German immigrants who settled in Southwestern North Carolina.
Coincidentally, a few days after I spoke with Bob I ran into a friend from Cleveland County. She had remembered that I was working on this project and brought me some of her favorite brand of liver mush- Neese’s- and gave me some instructions for eating it. She said that while most people like it fried and served with eggs and grits she prefers it with a touch of maple syrup. The next morning I fried up a batch and served it with freshly baked buttermilk biscuits and a healthy serving of maple syrup.
Bob Garner has spent his career doing exactly what I’m hoping to do with this project- connect with people from across the state to learn their stories and celebrate their culture and history. Tasting North Carolina grew out of a desire to reconnect with my home state, and thanks to people like Bob I know more and more about my roots every day.
Fried Livermush Biscuit
1lb block of livermush or liverpudding
4 cups flour
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps salt
2 sticks butter
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
Heat oven to 400F.
Mix together dry ingredients. Cube butter and work in with your hands, breaking the butter up into small pieces and mixing in with the dry ingredients, until the texture resembles cornmeal. Stir in the buttermilk.
Use a spoon to drop the dough into a drop biscuit pan or onto a lined baking sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Slice liver mush into 1/2″ slices. Fry in a buttered skillet for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp. Serve on a sliced hot biscuit with a generous drizzle of maple syrup.