In Defense of the Liverwurst Sandwich

October 11, 2017

My mom used to tell me stories about liverwurst sandwiches. She described to me Wonderbread afternoons and tart yellow mustard stains on tube socks and roaming in tricycle gangs through suburban streets. Hers was an era of don’t come home until dinner—she played jacks in driveways and used landlines to call home when she would be late. My grandmother, with a cigarette hanging loosely from her lipsticked mouth, prepared pot roasts and aspics and plum cakes for a raucous family of five. And though I’ve tasted my way through most of my nana’s worn recipe rolodex, when I think of my mother and her childhood spent in a Jewish suburb of Chicago, it’s the taste of her favorite after-school snack that I imagine most.

A wave of Central and Eastern European immigrants brought liverwurst to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. The sausage, made from the ground livers of pork or calf, was popular in the German Jewish community of my family’s well-to-do town just north of Chicago. My mom and her family called it by the Anglicized name, a take on the German leberwurst. She also calls it liver sausage. To make liverwurst, fat, onions and spices, like black pepper and nutmeg, are added to the ground liver mixture. It is sold in slices or in sausage links; it comes spreadable or firm. Liverwurst can be bought at a specialty store or supermarket—Oscar Mayer makes its own version.

As a kid, I bristled at talk of this mysterious liver sausage. What food would so brazenly proclaim its contents, proudly own up to its existence as a log of ground organ meat? And most of all, what kind of kid would lust for a lunch with liver as its main ingredient? I imagined it: sandwiched between rye, with a smooth swipe of mustard or mayo, a thick slice of liverwurst waits to be eaten. My mom knew her enthusiasm only bred dismay on my part, so she spared me and my school lunches from any trace of her childhood favorite. Its only other echo in my pre-adult life was in the beginning of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, when Meg Murry, our unassured protagonist’s, mother enjoys a liverwurst and cream cheese sandwich.

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Recently, I decided to revisit the liverwurst sandwich, to assign taste to the staple of my mother’s childhood. I settled on the Jones Dairy Farm’s Braunschweiger, a pack of sliced liver sausage ideal for sandwich making. Their website recommends creamy liver dips or braunschweiger pop tarts, even a ham and Braunschweiger banh mi. I opted instead to recreate the classic sandwich. My mom tells me that growing up, her fridge was never not stocked with liverwurst slices, an easy, nostalgic staple that her mom, the child of German immigrants, had also grown up eating. My mom took her liverwurst sandwiches on white bread with Miracle Whip spread, but I seek a more modern approach.

My liverwurst approach: bright, lively, sharp. Photo by Valerio Farris

Instead, I slice apples and red onion paper thin and lay them in a shallow bath of apple cider vinegar. Together, they marinate and become plump in each other’s sauces. I whisk together curry powder and mayo and spread a healthy dollop across two slices of bread-aisle marble rye. These go wet side down in a hot, dry frying pan until golden and crispy; the bread’s natural swirl peeks through a crunchy glaze. I layer two slices of liverwurst—pink, solid, smooth—the tangy apple-onion slaw, and a few leaves of bitter Swiss chard between the toasted slices. The combination is colorful, in visuals, textures, and tastes. The earthy, fatty base of the liverwurst is brightened by the acidic crunch of the pickled vegetables and unified by the mayo’s heft. And what had always seemed so antiquated, some weird mid-century midwestern snack, feels suddenly revived.

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Top Comment:
“And I made liverwurst for my sandwiches. So wonderful. Now I am ready to do that all over again. to find a fresh liver is at the heart of the journey. I was hoping to find a recipe here for liverwurst, and not just a reminiscence. ”
— judy

Are you a fan of liverwurst? Did you grow up having it (or hating it) as a kid? Share your stories in the comments.

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    Mark Johnson
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Alphredo May 27, 2020
Can I come over for lunch! I’ll bring the beer! Sounds great!
Georgette May 27, 2020
Growing up in NYC we lived near Yorkville which was then full of wonderful German shops. Wonderful sausages and cold cuts. I loved liverwurst on pumpernickel bread with a thin layer of mayo and thin onions.
gwyneddgal April 13, 2020
We ate liverwurst all the time. Local deli sandwiches, home sandwiches on rye. Usually with onion. The cream cheese and liverwurst was a special at our college snackbar, on a bagel. I prefer it with onion and crusty bread and your version with pickled onion and apple sounds just right. We also ate beef liver. I still like it but stores won't stock it fresh anymore (Millenials are like, ew!) My husband would comment how good it smelled as I'd cook some up (for me, he refused) but then couldn't bring himself to eat it. It's not that good for you, but it's a real treat sometimes.
pogimbo March 10, 2020
My mother was born in Germany and we grew up eating liverwurst. But who ever heard of slices? It's like a paste. How can you slice that? You spread it. For some reason we'd have mayo sometimes, but always mustard and maybe some kind of pickle. She made her own pickles, so that's what we'd often have with it.

Much later I found a few great Polish markets in NYC and they'd make something very similar and if possible, even more rustic. Braunschweiger is just liver sausage that came from that town. Some people say it's smoked whereas liver sausage isn't but that's not true. You can smoke it or not, as you wish. I like the smoked version because, well, it's smoked. But the other can be good too! AFIK there's not any "official" version because it has been around for centuries, but eventually there will probably be some officiating body to create some kind of origin myth and rules for making it, kind of like the Neapolitans did with pizza.

Thanks for the blast from the past though!
Mark J. January 17, 2020
As a 12-year old caddy, I’d buy a grinder (sandwich made with half a loaf of Italian bread) for 20 cents from Leo’s at 6:30 in the morning. My favorite was liverwurst, bacon, and peppers with hot mustard and mayo. A few years later, as a college freshman, I changed the bacon for spicy coppa. Fifty years later, they still have it on their specialty sandwich board!
KarenGonzalez October 20, 2019
I was born in Guatemala and my mom would make cream cheese and liverwurst sandwiches. Didn’t know where that recipe or love for liverwurst came from but realized later on that it stemmed from my great grandfather’s German background. Tonight I just ate some with celery and some Brie and it tasted really good!
Alphredo September 5, 2019
Dear Oatcake,
Brink Dad a liverwurst and mustard on soft rye and a vanilla milkshake!
He will appreciate it!
oatcake September 6, 2019
Thanks Alphredo! Good idea! I am planning to share a liverwurst sandwich and a milkshake with my Dad when I see him in a few days.
oatcake September 5, 2019
Thanks for the article and all the comments, you help me remember one of my Dad’s favorite foods. We used to eat open-faced liverwurst sandwiches on rye, back in the 60’s. It was only me and my Dad who liked liverwurst, which was lucky because in a large family the popular stuff got eaten right up. Now my Dad is elderly and not well and getting so thin. I think a liverwurst on rye will be a good treat for him.
Alphredo April 17, 2019
High school in the 60’s. Four years of 1/2 of a liverwurst on rye sandwich with yellow mustard, an apple, and Tahitian Treat soda pop!
Often had liverwurst at home as a kid, but fell in love with it at Gerhardt’s Luncheonette in Ventnor, NJ in the summers of 62 and 63! Rye, mustard, thin slices of liverwurst and Bermuda onion. Just perfect!
BTW, the brand of liverwurst during high school, 64-68 was Freda Bros. from South Philly.
Responding because I just had a liverwurst and Swiss on pumpernickel with Dijonaisse! 😎
Bill March 15, 2019
I grew up eating, what we called, gooseliver sandwiches. The simple sandwich could be served with either mustard or mayonnaise. As I got older, I expanded a bit on that sandwich. Now I usually eat them on a roll, with a slice of raw onion, Swiss Cheese, and mayo. With a side of potato chips, a pickle, and a bottle of dark beer, you couldn't ask for a finer lunch!
April D. October 8, 2018
Jeez, I can barely see the comment box on my phonr as I type... However, Mom regularly bought Liverwurst. We always spread it. I was never a mayo fan and often omited the mayo. I would eat it plain with just bread since as a kid I had an aversion to pickles and mustard. Not so much anymore but I was disappointed to find the only liverwurst locally available has corn syrup in it, unnecessarily. To this day I still love the stuff and miss the brand my mother used to buy. Only one of my sisters still likes it too.
judy November 10, 2017
I ate liverwurst when I was growing up. Mom bought Oscar Meyer. I loved it and bought once in a while as an adult. Over the last couple of years I have been introducing organ meats back in to my diet. I love most of them. We bought part of an organic cow a few years back. Fresh liver was part of the bargain. It was huge--about 7 pounds. What does one do with that much liver? I went on a quest to find a recipe. I found 3. And I made liverwurst. Amazing! wonderful! delicious! I found that it froze beautifully. Then a few years ago I discovered Bahn Mi sandwiches. So I went searching for recipes for all the ingredients, etc. I found myself pickling all kinds of veggies. And I made liverwurst for my sandwiches. So wonderful. Now I am ready to do that all over again. to find a fresh liver is at the heart of the journey. I was hoping to find a recipe here for liverwurst, and not just a reminiscence.
ChefJune October 16, 2017
I still love the stuff! and these days buy it at the Union Square Greenmarket at "Flying Pigs," or mail order it from Nueske's.
But in the 50's, growing up in Chicago, I recall it being labeled "Liver Sausage." Oscar Meyer made two kinds - the chubb Mom sliced for our sandwiches, and a squishy roll of stuff that as kind of gross.
It was ALWAYS the sandwich we left for "Santa" on Christmas eve, so someone else in our house liked it, too!
heatherhoang October 13, 2017
In a Vietnamese household, we would eat liverwurst (as pate) on toasted baguettes with sliced cucumbers, cilantro, salt + pepper, and sometimes with "do chua" or pickled julienned daikon and carrots. It would be a simple meal, the kind of thing my mom would serve to me after school. Liverwurst brings me back warm memories! :)
Anke T. October 13, 2017
Hmmm. In Germany, Leberwurst an der Braunschweiger are two different things, and the variety in the picture is something else yet, it looks most like what we would call Leberkäse („liver cheese“, no dairy involved though 😂). Braunschweiger, like Leberkäse, is a firm, sliceable cooked sausage, Leberwurst on the other hand is liver pate‘s less refined, heartier, spreadable cousin. I love all of them but only eat them when I’m back home in Germany.
BerryBaby October 13, 2017
Couldn't stand it, bought liverwurst yesterday. I'm happy!😋
Patty S. October 12, 2017
The liverwurst sandwhich of my childhood was on pumpernickel bread with mayonnaise and sweet pickles. We also ate liverwurst on white bread with mustard. Either way they are both delicious. We still make a braunschweiger dip at Christmas and I swear some of us could eat it with a spoon!
Joan O. October 12, 2017
Always have & still love it, on caraway seeded rye bread with sliced raw onion & gherkins on the side - no mayo.
Noreen F. October 12, 2017
Liverwurst (braunschweiger to the German side of my family) was and still is an occasional treat. I ate it on squishy white bread with Miracle Whip as a kid, but now I generally opt for whole wheat bread, plenty of Miracle Whip and a big chunk of iceberg lettuce for crunch. I'm going to have to try the pickled red onion, though. It sounds like the perfect addition.
[email protected] October 12, 2017
So many memories growing up with American German parents who loved Liver & Onions, Liverwerst (or Liver sausage) & Limberger cheese! I was served Liversausage & ketchup, probably to make it more “kid friendly” and while I preferred Wonder White bread at the time, it was most likely served to me on rye or marble rye, which was also used for that Limberger cheese, topped with lots of onion! The updated version looks and sounds delicious! On my way to the store now and will be adding Liverwerst to the list :)