This is it. When the Democratic National Convention arrives (and even beforehand) the world will be looking at Charlotte. What better time for this city to embrace its true, unique and authentic culinary heritage?
No, I'm not talking about vinegary barbecue (as today's New York Times article reports). The Times fell for the spin. Vinegary barbecue is a North Carolina culinary heritage but is not at all unique to Charlotte or the greater Charlotte metro region. (Related note: a small squabble has broken out among barbecue fans over whether Charlotte has any great barbecue restaurants. Some say Bill Spoon's on South Boulevard. Others favor Bubba's off I-77 north, and some contend Mac's has the best. Regardless, none has the fame and national following of places such as Lexington BBQ No. 1, Wilber's in Goldsboro, the Skylight Inn in Ayden, Bridges (both of 'em) in Shelby, or even Stamey's in Greensboro.
What does Charlotte have that the world does not? We have livermush. Don't turn up your nose.
If you treasure authentic roots foods, livermush is ours. Why not celebrate that instead of acting ashamed? In Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis' livermush magnum opus from 2000 (alas, I couldn't find a link) she quotes John Egerton, the Nashville-based author of the authoritative guidebook "Southern Food." "I don't ever remember seeing a dish called livermush anyplace else [outside of North Carolina],' he said. "And I hope never to see it again." Bah!
Livermush even has a listing in Wikipedia. That page takes you to a 2004 Christian Science Monitor article on livermush. And here's a nice roundup from October, by Andrea Weigl.
Weigl makes it sound as if livermush is an all-over-N.C. thing. It isn't. Go to most regular-Joe breakfast places in Charlotte and this region – I mean places where menus offer biscuits and grits and sausage patties and other normal breakfast food – you will see livermush on the menu. Or maybe they'll call it liver pudding. True, too many chain-type places owned by out-of-town corporations do not offer livermush. That's their loss, and their lost business.
Go roughly 80 miles in any direction from Charlotte you aren't likely to see livermush on the menu – not in Asheville, not in Columbia, not in Fayetteville, not in Raleigh. Maybe, if you're lucky, you can buy it at a grocery store. I had my first livermush when I lived in Fayetteville, but only because Charlotte native David McKnight kept telling me to try it and told me how you just fry it up in a pan. I did. And it was quite tasty. Crunchy edges, with a soft interior, not too heavy on the liver, either. When I spent the 2007-08 year living in Cambridge, Mass., I asked Charlotte visitors to please bring livermush. Did you know it freezes nicely?
Until four or five years ago Charlotte had its own livermush manufacturer, Jamison's. They stopped making it, though Ronnie Jamison told Purvis last summer they had contracted with "a company in the mountains" to make it. Another well-known brand is Guilford County-based Neese's, which claims liver pudding and livermush are different. Mack's is made in Shelby, about 40 miles west of Charlotte and possibly the livermush epicenter of the world. I was in a Shelby convenience store recently and noticed three different brands, two of them locally made. In a convenience store! Shelby of course has its Livermush Expo every year. The 2011 Livermush Expo will be Oct. 22 at Court Square in uptown Shelby.)
So please, if you're a proud Charlottean bragging to out-of-town pols or pundits or journalists, remember what our real roots food is. And, like those green eggs and ham, if you have not tried it – you should.