Appalachian Food

Souse Meat and Liver Mush

Souse Meat and Liver Mush

Canned sausage 

“Mountain Cooking” by John Parris

Souse Meat and Liver Mush – Laurel Branch

Hog-killin time in the hills is a hard time and a busy time for the womenfolks.

It means making souse meat and liver mush, turning out sausage, canning backbones and ribs, rendering lard, and salting down hams and bacon.

“Why, there’s so much to do,” said Mrs. Fannie Hensley. “It’s almost enough to kill a woman. But it’s something that’s got to be done when you kill hogs.”

She paused a moment in the frost-sharp November morning and let her eyes check the fires crackling under the kettles that dotted the back yard of the farmhouse.

“I’ve got two more pots of meat in there on the electric stove,” she said, nodding toward the kitchen. “When you kill hogs, you’ve got to work up the meat fast so that it won’t spoil.

My husband Bert and some of the menfolks did the hog-killing last Saturday, and for a week now I’ve been busy from morning to night working up the meat.”

“In this pot here,” she said, bending down to take off the lid. “I’m cooking the head and the jaws and the feet and the ears for making souse meat.”

“In the two posts over there, I’m cooking the backbones and ribs right in the jars. And in that other one, I’m rendering lard.

Speaking of backbones and ribs, back when I was growing up all the folks did their hog-killing just before Thanksgiving , and they always had a big mess of backbones and ribs on Thanksgiving. They preferred it to turkey.

My family is particularly fond of hog meat in all its parts and forms-ham, bacon, jowls, backbones, liver, sausage, and cracklings. I reckon the only thing they’ve never cared for is chitlins.

I’ve been making souse meat all my life and I’m 70 years old. Learned when I was just a girl. Mama made it ahead of me and so did her mama.

Now the way I make it is to take the head and boil it till it’s real good and done. Then I take all the meat off the bone, put in sage and pepper, and mash it all up together. Then I pack it in cans and cook it three hours. It’ll keep that way.

We always eat some right away when I make it. But its’s too much to keep fresh. That’s why I can it.

We’ve already had a mess of fresh backbones and ribs. But I like my souse meat. I can most all of the backbones and ribs so we can have them throughout the winter.

To prepare the backbones and ribs, I wipe them and put them in the cans to dry. I don’t have any water about them. Just put them in the cans, screw on the tops. I put a cloth in the bottom of the pot, set the cans on it, then put another cloth over the top of them, and let them cook for three hours. I never have busted a can. When you fix them that way, you’ve got them all winter.”

She turned away from the pot where the hog’s head was boiling and walked over the to the big black pot with its steaming chunks of fat.

“I prefer homemade lard to store-bought lard,” she said, “And I always make enough to last from one hog-killing to the next. It’s a chore to make, but it’s worth it.

I take the thick, choice fat and cut it up into small pieces, then put it in the pot and build a fire under it. I let it cook until all the grease is out of it. You can tell when it’s rendered because it turns brown.

Then I take the grease out of the pot and put it in containers. I’m going to can the batch in these big-mouthed jars. It’ll keep good that way until next fall. Be just like it was when I put it in there.

What’s left when all the fat’s removed and the grease is out is cracklins. Some folks use them to make soap. But I’m not going make any soap. I have made it in my time. But it is just too much a chore.

Besides, my folks want cracklin bread made out of them. I reckon cracklin bread is just about the best bread there is. My mother taught me how to make cracklin bread. It’s just cornbread with the cracklins mixed into the batter and baked until it’s good and brown.

As I said, I’ve got liver cooking in a pot in there on the kitchen stove and when it gets done, I’ll make it into liver mush. I’ve got a piece of pork cooking with it.

I’ll be making liver mush tonight. I’ll take the liver and the pork and mash it up real fine, then put it back in the same liquid that its was cooked in and add enough corn meal to make a thick mush. Then I’ll put in salt and pepper and let it cook until the meal is done. You have to watch it and stir it from time to time to keep it from burning.

When it’s done, you pour it out in a dish. If you’ll put it in the refrigerator it’ll keep for quite a while. When we want a mess, I just take it out and slice it and roll it in flour and put it in a greased skillet and fry it until it’s good and brown.”



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  • Reply
    Deborah Thomas-Wilton
    November 14, 2020 at 11:38 am

    The food of my childhood. But we made headcheese as well as souse.

  • Reply
    Drama Watson
    January 15, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    First time blogging on your site. I grew up here in the Smoky Mountains in a family of ten. I have worked in hog meat, canning and preserving foods all my life. I just finished my Cookbook “Just Plain Good.” It was written for my family and about my family and the life I have lived here in the mountains. I have received great reviews on it and that has made the years of work worth it. We always made Souse Meat, Cottage Cheese, butter, lard, and even our own starch when we ran out. I still can, cook and preserve food for the winter. I thank God everyday for my raising and the life he has allowed me to live. God bless.

  • Reply
    Susan Landis
    January 13, 2018 at 8:28 am

    My aunts in TN all loved souse meat, but I never heard of livermush until I moved to NC.

  • Reply
    Julie Moreno
    December 1, 2017 at 7:39 am

    My Granny make great souse meat with hog heads. When they stopped butchering she would send me to Indianapolis to the packing house to by a hog’s head. Imagine my surprise when I came to Texas and discovered the hog’s heads were used in making tamales!!!

  • Reply
    barbara lunsford davis
    November 29, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    oh man ,2 of my favorite things, liver mush and cracklins.hard to find pork liver,unless you kill hog,any other liver is not the same,i load mine mush up with onions,sooo good fried up,later.Makes me wish I was back up in the mountains,ha

  • Reply
    November 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Never heard of souse meat or livermush (or liver pudding) – but the head and jowls of the hog make great tamales!
    Wish I could work alongside a few of those women as they cooked/canned/smoked the hog for the winter. . . .

  • Reply
    Brynne Crowe
    November 28, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Like Ron, I’d never heard of livermush except in Jan Karon’s books. Or souse meat at all. But I enjoy reading about the process and admire the way folks made use of every little bit of hog.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 27, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Nope, don’t want any liver mush…and barely any souse meat…only a time or once! Ha Like Cindy I never heard of dry canning ribs…My mother-in-law put some fat or liquid in hers when canning…mostly she canned sausage…The mention of canned sausage wasn’t included in this article and I was looking forward to their take on making and canning sausage…every one has a different recipe for the mild, medium or hot sausage…
    My Dad got a cravin’ one time for some souse meat…He bought some at a small local store that catered to near home made products…He brought it in and fried him up a few slices….ewwww, he said, that’s not like Momma’s souse meat and proceeded to toss the rest of it…I thought it looked nasty before he ever put it in the pan!..
    We still have some ham left for sandwich’s today!
    Thanks Tipper for this post…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 27, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    I like livermush but anymore the stuff you buy in a grocery store tastes nasty. My mother made livermush with fresh pork liver and fresh spices. I remember she snipping up dried hot peppers from her garden with scissors to give some heat to her sausage and livermush.
    I have made livermush myself. It doesn’t compare to what I remember but it is still miles ahead of store bought. The problem is finding fresh pork liver. People don’t raise hogs around here anymore. Even frozen pork liver is hard to find. Sometimes Ingles has it but even that hasn’t been properly cleaned. It is full of blood, veins and membranes. It’s a lot of work to fix it but if you have the time it is worth it.

  • Reply
    November 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    John Parris is my Favorite writer and you’re alot like him, I can see it in your writings. I have had livermush but never souse meat. When we killed hogs for the winter, usually to the butcher, if he wanted it. We had homeade Livermush once, but none of us boys liked it very much, except Daddy and Mama.
    My aunt Toots (Daddy’s younger sister) would send me “Cracklin’ bread” sometimes, but it had hard spots in it. I like Cornbread better. …Ken

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    November 27, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I can see why our ancestors had to save and eat these. And maybe enjoyed them.?
    As long as theres pinto beans/cornbread and peanut butter left on earth, I’ll pass.
    Interesting reading tho and I thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    November 27, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Great post! Just like I remember from my grandparents. Only difference, we called it liver “pudding” and it could be made with corn meal or rice. All very good.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    November 27, 2017 at 9:54 am

    The old saying…”use every part of the hog except the squeal.”

  • Reply
    November 27, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Mrs. Hensley is right, it’s almost enough to kill a woman. Mom did all the curing, canning and soap making and never complained. She was happy to be able to preserve winter food for her family. Mom never made liver mush that I can remember and I’m glad.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 27, 2017 at 8:29 am

    I had never heard of livermush until I read the Jan Karon books. And we never made souse meat but gave the parts to someone else who did. Somehow or other I do not recall having cracklins that we made. Somewhere along the way I have had cracklin bread and I do like it.
    Your posts really bring out that hog killing was a big deal in terms of time, effort and seriousness. Food security for the winter largely depended on it. And most things came hard enough that waste was unthinkable.

  • Reply
    Barbara Gantt
    November 27, 2017 at 8:18 am

    We love anything hog at our house. We always have ham at holidays even if we have turkey too. Livermush is a favorite buy you cant buy it in Vermont.
    Anytime my husband is going to NC to preach, he brings home a cooler full of livermush and Dukes Mayo. He loves livermush sandwiches with mustard. I just eat it plain.
    This post is making me hungry and homesick.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    November 27, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Wow, what a job. I must say the souse and liver mash sound just nasty to me. But, I keep lard on hand just for our crusts. It makes the best

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 27, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Tipper, I really enjoyed that excerpt and I saw a couple of things I didn’t know. I have never heard of canning ribs without water. I thought you had to always add water or the jars would break.
    I’ve never seen souse meat made except once. Pa-paw Tony’s dad took a notion to make souse one year but it somehow got bone splinters in it and was not edible.
    Now the cracklin’s are wonderful in cornbread. I see them in the grocery once in a while but I don’t buy then. They usually have little bits of skin in them that are so hard they’ll break your teeth if you bite down on them. You have to be real careful preparing the fat for boiling to make sure there is no skin cause it gets so hard.
    A week, it takes a whole week to process everything from the hog. That’s a lot of work but it provides a lot of meals !

    • Reply
      November 29, 2019 at 1:58 am

      Miss Cindy, if you like crackling bread, try making it with “pork skins” sold in the chip aisle at the grocery stores. I have been putting them in my corn bread for quite a few years. They are softer than cracklings and cook up very tender. I usually add a bit more buttermilk than normal so the dry skins soften up. Hope it works for you. Neva

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