Now I’ve seen a lot of posts about apple stack cake. It’s been a mainstay on Appalachian tables since God was a boy, but I’ve not seen a specific history of the dish until now. Today’s guest blogger, Dave Tabler, shares the origins of this popular dessert along with a recipe that will leave your mouth watering and your feet running to the kitchen.
Dave leads the excellent blog Appalachian History, which features stories, quotes and anecdotes from Appalachia, with an emphasis on the Depression era.
You can also see me taste apple stack cake for the very first time in a segment from the show Daytime Blue Ridge.
The dried apple stack cake is one of the most popular southern Appalachian cakes— no surprise considering apples are found aplenty in the mountains. Culturally it’s akin to the classic European torte. It looks like a stack of thick pancakes, with apple preserves, dried apples or apple butter spread between each layer. At holidays and weddings, early mountain settlers traditionally served stack cake in lieu of more fancy, and costly, cakes. Neighbors, according to folk wisdom, would each bring a layer of the cake to the bride’s family, which they spread with apple filling as they arrived. It was said that the number of cake layers the bride got determined how popular she was.
Kentucky lays claim to originating the dessert via Kentucky pioneer washday cake. “Some food historians say that James Harrod, the colonist and farmer who founded Harrodsburg in 1774, brought the stack cake to Kentucky from his home in Pennsylvania,” observes Mark F. Sohn in Appalachian Home Cooking: History, Culture, and Recipes. “While Harrod may have brought the first stack cake to Kentucky, the cake could not have been common until more than 100 years later when flour became readily available.” Tennessee proudly points to Tennessee stack cake as the first, but in fact variations of the cake abound throughout the region.
The cake is many layered, low in fat, and not sweet. It’s made with layers of stiff cookie like dough flavored with ginger and sorghum and spread with a spiced apple filling. When served, the cake is tall, heavy, and moist.
Stack Cake Recipe
Courtesy of Sheri Castle and Our State
Makes 12 to 16 servings
Dried Apple Filling
- 1 pound (4 to 5 packed cups) dried unsulphured apples
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
- 4 to 5 cups water, divided
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup sorghum molasses
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk