Appalachian Food

Sousemeat and Livermush

hogs at pond

“Now, when they killed the hogs, they used all the parts of the hog—all of them. Out of the head they made head-souse, which was cooked and you’d put vinegar over it and let it set for several days.

Just ground the head meat up and put pepper and salt and vinegar in it. Course, they took the bones out and cooked it real tender before they mashed or ground it up. I can remember my mother-in-law mashing it with her hands. They didn’t have a grinder at the time.

And they made sausage from the scraps. And, of course, they cured the shoulders and the hams and the side meat. Back then it was cured with white salt. We didn’t know what this Morton’s salt was at the time.

Then after about four or five days, we’d go back and salt the bones again, around the edges of the bones. And after twelve to fifteen days, then, you could hang the meat up. Finest thing in the world, I guess.

We made livermush from the liver. You know, we buy it in the store now and it isn’t fitten to eat. Always, when I made it, I cooked the onions and everything with it—salt, pepper, and onions. And then we’d make it out in cakes so we could slice it. It sure tasted different from what we get now.”

—Winnie Biggerstaff, 1904 McDowell County – “Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie” by Patsy Moore Ginns

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  • Reply
    Jean Boykin
    October 31, 2021 at 12:59 am

    I am as southern as I can be and grew up in eastern NC where hog killings once were numerous, but I just can’t even think about eating either of these. I feel like my brother-in-law does…….he said once about souse…..”I ain’t knockin’ it, but I ain’t eatin’ it!! LOL

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 6:38 pm

    What a wonderful and informative post about hog processing in Appalachia. I suppose it is bittersweet for me to remember those bygone days where life didn’t always go as a little girl planned. Long before we moved to the farm and while living in a coal camp it was common for families to have all kinds of animals in a grassy area behind the houses past what we referred to as “the back alley.” The back alley was a busy little area with kids, animals, and sometimes men working on their cars. There was hogs, one cow, and a wood chop with everybody having a good sized coal pile.
    The community was a mix of coal miners and others, as I can remember a Mr. Mitchem in a wheelchair and men too old to work. I suppose the rent was cheap, as the houses were mostly thrown together with a couple of chimneys, a hole in the kitchen floor to shove the wash machine hose down, and they all had an outhouse. Some of my dearest and worst memories took place there in that lowly coal camp packed full of some of the most wonderful folks on earth.
    I suppose it would have been around November the large camp would have hog killings and several men would join in to help. It was around this time we would often see an old man slowly trudging up the road with a heavy gunny sack thrown across his back. We called him “Ole Sackman Joe” Every time he came up the road our little gang of coal camp kids would shriek loudly and run like fire screaming, “He’s gonna put you all in that sack.” He would trudge on headed for his little shack at the head of the holler, seemingly taking no notice of the loud ornery youngsters. I asked my parents one time and found out he got all the hog parts nobody wanted consisting of the head and chitterlings. Nobody raising hogs in the holler ever ate any of that to my knowledge. It took a few years of maturity for me to feel remorse over my participation in the mistreatment of old Joe. In our neck of the woods in those days it was common to put old man in front of an older man’s name if he was just an acquaintance. Sure glad they don’t do that anymore. One of the deepest regrets of my childhood was that I did not defend him, but he had become the holler boogeyman when I was so young I actually thought he was carrying children in that sack. My parents taught me to respect my elders, and they certainly were not aware of those shenanigans. Pork is the one meat I truly loved as a child However, I cannot think of the old hog killing times without remembering a tired old man I wish I could apologize to.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 12:47 pm

    As a child, daddy would raise a pig/hog for us to kill and have all kinds of meat for the winter. It was so good, especially the ham and tenderloin and sausage. It lasted us to. I sure can’t eat it now, now if it because of my BP. I remember daddy letting me try and help scrape the hog , getting the hair off after they had put it in hot water. It loosen it up. That was the good ole days. Hard work but worth it.

  • Reply
    Ken Rinehuls
    October 11, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Being that im Pa Dutch I remember my grandparents made all of that but what I liked most was Scrapple.I was like liver mush but was made with scrap meat and buckwheat flour and cornmeal You cooked it àll up,put it in loaf pans today up.You would slice it about a quarter inch thick and fry it.I liked it then and still do

  • Reply
    Joe F.
    October 11, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    Never heard of liver mush, but it sounds very similar to chopped liver (beef NOT pork) of Jewish delicatessen fame, which I really like. I’ve heard from old timers who butchered and processed their own pork that the liver was eaten for supper shortly after processing, because there is no way to cure and preserve it. Same thing with the brains, usually eaten the following morning for breakfast with scrambled eggs.
    Neither of my parents liked pork liver or brains, and I don’t remember what they did with either, but my mother especially liked souse meat, so she did attempt to make her own one particular time I remember. That was when she ’bout scared me to death when she came to wake me up one morning carrying a hog’s head by the ears with all the meat cut off. I don’t think her souse meat turned out very well, so she went back to “store bought” from then on.
    Talk about using “everything but the squeal,” there is some BBQ place, in Georgia I think, whose specialty is pig ear sandwiches. Having seen a video, I think I’ll pass.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 11, 2021 at 11:56 am

    Granny’s making of souse traumatized my mother! Her family had pigs but I guess they didn’t make souse. Anyway, Granny was boiling a big pot and Mama looked in it to see the hog head with it’s eyeballs still in it! I have never even been tempted to try it!!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 11:41 am

    I only remember my mom trying to make souse one time. She was cooking a hog’s head in a big pot and every time she raised the lid she gagged. Our bird dogs really enjoyed that pork. Dad always told me his older sister made good souse but I never ate any and didn’t want to.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    October 11, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Like Cindy, I missed a lot of the process, in the coalfields of Va….I remember the pig going on a big rope after it was killed…then the hoist up that strong tree ….and I loved and still remember the sage sausage mommy fried ,put in a canning jar, then covered the meat with hot grease. It all sounds gross to me now…but I have eaten squirrel brains as a poor mountain child so back then, we did what we had to . My own daddy told of the one bite of meat on the side of a blue jay or robin he ate in the 20s and 1930s . He hunted the birds with his rock flipper, for food , said 50 of them, cleaned and stewed and eaten with gravy would keep a body alive another day.
    My mom said she’d cleaned many a wild thing, soaked it in salt water, then fried, baked or stewed it for a meal. As the saying goes …waste not , want not, use it up, wear it out….make it do …or do without.

    • Reply
      October 11, 2021 at 2:50 pm

      Kat, I’ve ate those squirrel brains too growing up in E,KY. A brother and I would practically fight over a squirrel’s head. Nowdays I don’t want no squirrel’s head with those empty eye sockets starring at me.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 11, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Tipper, my Dad would kill two big hogs in November and my job was boiling water and help scrape the hogs,I was about five and my job was to fry up a big mess tenderloin and liver make biscuits/gravy. One day my brother who came to help brought in some hog brains for me to cook. I told we never had hog brain but I scrambled those darn things put an eggs and fried them. He ate the whole thing it just about turned my stomach. We were taught at early age to cook and do other things. I had their lunch fixed around one . I guess I’m bragging some but what child at that age could do that now. Tipper you bring back good and somewhat bad memories too. I loved mother liver mush but not to keen on souce meat. We would save the pigs tails to pull a gag on someone by putting a pigs tail on the church Christmas tree. We had fun too but work was hard.

  • Reply
    Donna Sue
    October 11, 2021 at 10:25 am

    I know, I am pretty chatty today! I just wanted to clarify how my brain thinks of the seasons of life, like I mentioned in my last comment.

    Birth to 25 = spring
    25 to 50 = summer
    50 to 75 = fall
    75 to 100 = winter

    I don’t know the correct way of dividing our years into seasons. But the above is how I think of them. And I am sure the closer I come to the end of any season, I will add another ten or twenty years to it!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Tina Huffman
    October 11, 2021 at 10:25 am

    My mom loved hog head cheese. But let’s don’t forget mountain oysters, chitlins/sweetbreads, cracklin, lard and more. Mom said if you wanted brains, kidney and liver sliced and fried then cow meat was better. Liver and gizzards best from the chicken. God is good to provide but in my “modern” way of thinking, I find myself turning my nose up at the thought of such food. The way things are going such foods might once again become a delicacy. But will we remember how to cook them?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 11, 2021 at 10:24 am

    I love livermush. I grew up eating it. Not a lot of people in our community made it. I think it is a Piedmont North Carolina dish. My parents both tried living there (Gaston and Union Counties) when they were young before hightailing it back to the mountains. It wasn’t available in stores when I was growing up (that I knew of). I can find it where I live now but I wont eat it because it “ain’t fit to eat” these days. I sometimes make my own.
    Livermush is similar to liver pudding or scrapple. In those days livermush was made from only cornmeal, liver, salt, pepper and sage. Mommy snipped up bits of cayenne peppers to put in hers. Basically it is cornmeal mush with liver and spices for flavor. It is cooked and allowed to solidify like a pâté. It can be eaten cold or fried until it forms a crispy crust. I prefer it cold on a sandwich with a little mustard.
    I am not much of one to eat organ meats but that doesn’t apply to chicken. Livers, gizzards and hearts are my favorite parts of a hen. Oh, and the immature eggs that are still inside! Gizzards and hearts are actually muscles so that leaves only the liver as organ meat. These four items are best when cooked in with the rest of the bird as chicken and dumplings. Mommy used to let me take her big slotted spoon and “fish” around in the pot for these delectable little morsels before she put it on the table.
    Daddy made souse meat but I wouldn’t eat. He took bits of muscle meat from the head, ground it up and cooked it similar to livermush. I didn’t like the taste and especially the texture. It was like eating a toothbrush. Daddy eventually stopped using the head and either gave it away or if nobody would take it would give it to the dogs.
    A bit of advice, if you haven’t eaten livermush and would like to try it, don’t buy Macks, Jenkins, or Neeses (they call theirs liver pudding). Buy Hunters! It is made in Marion, NC. That’s in McDowell County, the same area Ms. Ginns article refers to. It’s the closest to homemade I’ve seen.

  • Reply
    Donna Sue
    October 11, 2021 at 10:06 am

    JIM CASADA: I sure enjoyed reading your comment on your experience at the English Country Estate, and all the silverware, and watching your hostess carefully so you knew what to do! As for pork marrow, I have not eaten it as you have, by sucking it out of the bones. About ten years ago I was diagnosed with a disease and told I had only three years or less to live. I had barely started the summer years of my life yet, so I was determined to fight that diagnosis. I started with the food I ate. I investigated online, and I know that God led me to Weston A Price, a dentist from the early 1900s, who believed traditional ways of eating saved lives and built strong bodies. I bought the book “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon, a main speaker for The Weston A Price Foundation, and adopted that way of eating. This book is thick, and very in depth on traditional cooking ways, with tons of recipes. In the book she tells how to make your own bone broth. I make mine in a crockpot. I haven’t made any since moving to North Carolina, mainly because I can’t find bones, chicken feet, or other animal parts in the grocery store here like I could in San Diego. Tippers’s blog today has reignited my passion to make my own broth again – it tastes much better than store bought. When you simmer the bones for about 72 hours, they become very soft and break apart in the water. All that healthy marrow mixes with the broth liquid, and as you know – it is healing. I do strain the bones out when done, and I reuse them for a second batch because there can be a lot left in the bones. Five years ago, I received the fantastic news that I had 0% of the disease in my body, so I am a strong supporter of old ways of eating!

    RON STEPHENS: I love the Jan Karon Mitford book series! I have read all of them about eight years ago, and think it’s time to read them all again! Such a delightful series! I had forgotten about the mention of Cheerwine in those books. When I first moved here to North Carolina and saw my first bottle in the store, I went “aha! It is real!”, but had forgotten where I first heard of it. I don’t drink pop, so I have actually never tasted it.

    SANFORD MCKINNEY: I laughed at the title in your comment “Traditional Offal Dish”. My internal ears heard “awful” for “offal”. Today, most of us think any of the various parts of an animal, other than what is commonly found in the grocery store, are “awful”!!!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 9:51 am

    My parents and grandparents always had a “hog killing” after the first frost in the fall. My grandfather had a smokehouse where the hams and bacon hung until they were ready to use. They always made souse and I loved it! Can’t find it much these days and what you do find isn’t much good. I sure would love to get hold of some good old homemade souse.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 9:33 am

    I remember my parents and grandparents doing this. Each of them would have their own hog and kill both on them in November. They always wanted the hogs to weigh at least 500 lbs. They had a wood box in an outside building they would put the ham, shoulders, fatback in and cover with salt. The meat would be left in the box all winter before being taken out. The salt would then be given to the mule and used in the ice cream churn. I never would eat the sousemeat or liver mush. I know of a meat market that still sells fresh hog heads.

    My daddy liked to joke and say nothing went to waste on a hog. He would say they even sold the squel to General Motors. He said this because the car doors would squeak when opened on these cars when the car bodies were made by Fischer.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Winnie’s story was very informative. I had no idea they used pig head to cook up and I’ve never had liver mush. I never lived on an actual farm, but we had huge gardens, three fruit trees and berry bushes on our property. Some of my cousins considered us city folks, but we only lived close to a small town. They on the other hand lived far out in the country, so we called them country folks, but none of them had live stock and only one even grew a garden…lol…funny how things looked so different from a child’s perspective.
    Tipper, thank you for sharing Winnie’s story. I enjoyed reading it!

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Daddy raised a hog every year to be butchered at the beginning of winter. He always had help processing it while Mom was busy frying up a mess and preparing to make souse, cracklins, lard and pickled feet. The fried meat sure tasted and smelled different back then. I’ve been told some of the neighbors a mile away could smell the fresh meat frying. I stopped eating pork about five years ago and don’t miss it one bit. I didn’t stop eating it for religious or health reasons. That’s just another one of my quirky eating habits.

  • Reply
    October 11, 2021 at 8:55 am

    My parents talked of hog killing time and how they processed the hog and making sousemeat. My Mother loved, I think it was pickled pigs feet. I could not eat that or sousemeat, yet I love a liverwurst sandwich with a large slice of sweet onion on it. I do like the marrow in especially chicken bones and from what I read they say the marrow is really good for you.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    October 11, 2021 at 8:28 am

    I have watched people make sousemeat and livermush and have eaten both of them. I have never seen anyone grind the head bones into either one. I guess they were using all of the pig except the squeal! Hog killing day was a really big event when I was a child. I remember the large cast iron pots that were used to render hog fat into lard; standing near them kept me warm! Hog killing day was always on a really cold day. After the lard was rendered it was poured into a “lard stand” for use during the rest of the year.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 11, 2021 at 1:45 pm

      I don’t think anybody ground the head. Some people did cook the head whole then pull out bones. Cooking the bones released a lot of gelatin. The meat was ground and added back to to the stock. The combination was allowed to get cold. The gelatin congealed to a point where it could be sliced. They called that head cheese because the texture resembled a soft cheese.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 11, 2021 at 8:18 am

    Well, Dad used to fatten at least one hog each year to butcher sometime in November. But we never did sousemeat, also known as “head cheese” I believe. I have never tasted any. And I never so much as heard of livermush until I started reading Jan Karon’s Mitford books. (Another similar unknown was Cheerwine.)

    Anyway, both of those items are illustrations of the “don’t waste anything” folkway where “they used everything about a pig except the squeal”. Whether or not I ever taste sousemeat, I am still all for not wasting. I guess some folks would call me ‘the savinest feller’.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 11, 2021 at 11:01 am

      Cheerwine is another piedmont NC item. It was first bottled in Salisbury in 1917 and still is. It is still owned and operated by the same family that started it. It tastes similar to Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper. Personally I don’t like it but all the members of my wife’s side of the family do. Some of them won’t drink anything else.

      • Reply
        Robert Hutchins
        October 11, 2021 at 1:36 pm

        First time I encountered Cheerwine was when eating barbecue at a place in Lexington (or maybe Thomasville) more than 60 years ago. Don’t think I’ve had it since, but I haven’t spent much time in Piedmont NC since then either

    • Reply
      Jo Ellen Fipps
      October 11, 2021 at 12:41 pm

      I’m from NC and where I’m from (Wayne and Duplin County) we called it Liver Pudding and Souse meat.

  • Reply
    Donna Sue
    October 11, 2021 at 8:17 am

    I remember in Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder writing how every part of the hog was used when they were butchered. It doesn’t sound very appetizing today, but it didn’t hurt anyone to eat all that! I do not like liver, but I love liver wurst and onion sandwiches. Crazy! And I love sausage and hot dogs, but please don’t tell me what is in them!! Growing up in San Diego, in the grocery stores, especially the Mom and Pop older kind, you can find all kinds of parts of animals packaged in the meat case that I don’t see in the stores here in North Carolina. I miss being able to buy all the bones, chicken feet, etc, for making home made bone broth from the grocery store. I haven’t gone to a butcher shop/slaughter house here yet, to ask if they have those things. Also, in my old cookbooks from the 1890s – 1940/50s, there are many recipes for every part of an animal. Could I eat them today? I honestly don’t think so, maybe if I didn’t know what I was eating. Thank you for this post! My brain will be thinking about old food ways vs current food ways all day today. I enjoyed this post. I love learning about the past!

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    October 11, 2021 at 8:08 am

    An interesting article on Livermush:
    Livermush | Traditional Offal Dish From North Carolina …
    I expect Livermush is the same as the sandwich Liverwurst we buy in stores today? My mother made Sousemeat but never Livermush that I can remember.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 11, 2021 at 8:07 am

    Tipper–I’ve read the Ginns book before but somehow overlooked the line which talks about taking the bones out and then cooking it up real tender. She is almost certainly referring to cooking the meat, but you could interpret it as cooking the bones.

    That intrigues me because both Daddy and Grandpa Joe loved to suck the marrow out of pork ribs. So do I, and if you cook other hog bones long enough (for example, for hours in a crock pot) they will get tender enough to suck out the marrow and actually chew the bones.

    Primitive cultures commonly cracked larger bones to get the marrow, and for that matter I once dined with a lady at an English country estate where the vast array of implements at your place setting included a marrow spoon. Of course this unenlightened hillbilly had no idea what to do with that particular piece of table ware, not to mention most of the 60 or so other implements arrayed around my plate, was. I did, however, know enough to watch our hostess like a hawk. Whenever Lady Guise took something in hand I did my best to emulate her. It dawned on me at some point during that experience that not only did primitives enjoy marrow but that the cream of society (at least in England) did as well.

    I wonder if others among your readers have eaten and enjoy the marrow from pork bones?

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    GoodGriefLouise ( Bill )
    October 11, 2021 at 7:53 am

    If I looked at a menu that was serving only Sousemeat and Livermush and I was told what it was and how it was made there’s no doubt in my mind that I would go to bed hungry that night. ;()

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 11, 2021 at 6:33 am

    I wasn’t around hog killing much but I always found the process interesting and amazing how they took a live hog and turned it into so many meals. As it turned out I didn’t get to see the part I most wanted to see. I wanted to watch the actual cutting up of the pig. Well…I’m a girl…and I was told that the women processed the meat and the men killed and cut up the meat so my place was in the kitchen, and I never actually got to see the cutting apart of the pig!

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