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.


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.<br />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.<br />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 :)
HalfPint October 12, 2017
When we first came to the US, we landed in suburban Connecticut. Not surprisingly, there were not a lot of Asian grocery shops or Asian (i.e. Vietnamese) eateries. There still isn't lot but they're working on it. Anyhoo, Mom used liverwurst for the 'pate' in our banh mi sandwiches. She was already making the pork cold cut meat, and really didn't have time to make the pate as well. So liverwurst was a constant in our fridge. Liverwurst gets such a bad rep but it really is good and crosses many cultural lines. And I too loved it in my soft squishy Wonder bread.
Myrna G. October 12, 2017
I remember in the sixties in Chicago tasting a gallantine of peacock, demonstrated by the late hungarian Chef Louis Szathmary for a cooking class. Chef Louis explained the many steps involved in making a gallantine- you need to begin the day before at least. I remember thinking that it tasted a lot like liver sausage and that your guests had better know beforehand what they were eating and that it was not liver sausage from the grocery store.
Myrna G. October 12, 2017
A Polish-owned deli near my house in New Jersey used to make their own duck liverwurst, which was delicious. I'm going to phone and ask if and when they expect to have it again.
Chicagoreader October 12, 2017
Your mother was from Skokie? I think all of Chicago ate Oscar Meyer liverwurst in the 50s and 60s.
Sheryl Z. October 12, 2017
Love it. It brings back memories of my grandmother and lunches that my mother packed for school. Actually bought some last week and enjoyed every bite. Even had some with my scrambled eggs.
caninechef October 12, 2017
Mother Goose or Jones, the kind in the little tubes, rye with mustard. Seeing the recipe link above made me wonder, would liverwurst make a suitable stand in for pate in a Banh Mi? Liverwurst is also invaluable if you need to give a dog a pill.
Karen October 12, 2017
I love liverwurst too! Had not had it in many years but at the end of September 2017, I spent a week in Duesseldorf and had liverwurst on toast for breakfast every morning - so good! I must admit though, given a choice, I'd have foie gras every time. haha
htownlisa October 12, 2017
Oscar Meyer version... I have such fond memories. Maybe that’s all my mother could get in Houston? It certainly was delicious, but I have an eaten it in many years
Chris S. October 12, 2017
Oh boy does this bring me back. Only my Father bought and consumed it. When liverwurst was in the “ice box” it never lasted more then a few days. If I remember correctly my Father smeared butter on bread before applying the sweat meat. I vaguely remember the taste but I haven’t tasted it or plan too. It’s buried in the “maybe someday” food group with haggis, plum pudding and head cheese. Thanks for making me remember my Father’s favorite midnight snack. Cheers!
Judy W. October 11, 2017
WOW, Valerio your sandwich sounds wonderful. As the sister of your wonderful Nana, who introduced your Mom to liverwurst sandwiches, I remember having them as a kid. I had mine on caraway rye with yellow mustard only, but my parents, who had more sophisticated palates had theirs with spicy brown mustard. Thank you for awakening a childhood memory. I haven't had a liverwurst sandwich in years. I'm off to the store to buy some liverwurst and caraway rye, being grown-up now I already have the spicy brown mustard.