New to Me: Appalachian Stack Cake

1200px-Apple_Stack_Cake

thebittenword.com, via Wikimedia Commons

Some days  a simple trip to the grocery store in Lexington is enough to take you deep into Kentucky history.

“I can’t find the baking powder.  I’ve been up and down this aisle and can’t find it!”

I turned when I heard her voice, smiled and assured her that it had to be here somewhere, and set off back down the baking aisle with her to look for it.  I found it quickly–it was on the top shelf and I was taller than she was.

“Oh, there it is!  I’m making gingerbread stack cake and I want the baking powder to be fresh.  What I have at home is three years old!”

I barely heard the last part, because I was still trying to make sense out of that stack cake reference!

So I asked this lovely lady what a stack cake was and spent the next half hour learning about Appalachian stack cakes.  She had quickly realized that I wasn’t “from these parts” and was happy to fill me in.

She had grown up in Perry County, Kentucky–Walkertown–and later the family moved “up on the hill.”  Walkertown is southeast of Lexington, on past Berea, on the other side of the Daniel Boone National Forest in the Appalachians.  It’s near Hazard, Kentucky, in coal-mining country.

Apple_butter_in_jars

Apple Butter.  Wikimedia Commons

Her grandma was famous for her gingerbread stack cakes with apple butter and her mother continued the tradition.  They were made for family and community get-togethers throughout the fall and winter.  Each woman had a specialty that she would bring to a potluck and stack cake was her grandma’s specialty.

The cake had to be at least 4 layers, but 6 to 8 layers were better, especially for the men who worked in the coal mines.

Each layer is baked in a cast-iron skillet.  After the first one is baked, it’s turned out onto a clean tea towel to cool.  Apple butter is spread on top of each of the cooled layers as they are stacked.  My new friend’s family doesn’t put apple butter on top, but she said some people do.

When I got home, I looked for more information online about stack cakes and found that this traditional Appalachian cake has an interesting history, dating to the 1770s:

A stack cake is a unique regional variation that replaces a wedding cake, which can be prohibitively expensive in the economically deprived area of Appalachia, United States. Friends and family each bring a layer for the cake, and the bride’s family spreads apple preserves, dried apples, or apple butter between each layer. A stack cake looks like a stack of thick pancakes. It is thought to have originated in the Beaumont Inn of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, by the original settler James Harrod. The greater the number of layers, the more popular the couple is considered.  Wikipedia

Of course, I plan to bake a stack cake “one of these days.”  Here are a few recipes I found online that look promising:

Old-Fashioned Stack Cake with Appalachian Apple Butter Filling from the New Orleans Times-Picayune

Kentucky Derby Stack Cake from SusieJ.com

Apple Stack Cake from SimplyAppalachian.com

Four-Layer Appalachian Stack Cake from MarthaStewart.com

Old-Fashioned Stack Cake from LadyBehindTheCurtain.com

 

 If you’re a visual learner, try this excellent tutorial from  Appalachia’s Homestead on YouTube: 

Appalachian Apple Stack Cake from a 100+-year-old Tennessee recipe

If you’d like to read more about the history of stack cakes:

History of Apple Stack Cake from The Revivalist: Word from the Appalachian South

Stack Cake from AppalachianHistory.net

The Historic Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Appalachian Stack Cake: a traditional pioneer wedding cake from the Ann Arbor News

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Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “New to Me: Appalachian Stack Cake

  1. How exciting that your post went viral! I’ve not heard of stack cake until now, so I’m interested in trying it. Sounds like a fun party–a stack cake party, kind of like stone soup.

    We used to do a thing at overnight gatherings called stone soup. Everyone would bring one ingredient for the soup. Then we’d all spend the early evening washing, cutting and dicing the ingredients, saute the ones that needed it, add water, bring to a boil, and add the rest of the vegetables. It was called stone soup because, apparently, in the starving times, people would put a stone in the pot to extract any nutrients they could, along with whatever pickings they had gleaned from the surrounding countryside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right–it would be a wonderful thing to do with a gathering of friends! I’ve always loved the book and I’ve seen the theme used as an activity in 1st and 2nd grade classes.

      It would be a simple enough thing to ask (maybe–depending on the family!) each family member to bring one cake layer to a family gathering, just as they originally did in the Appalachians. I’ll probably stick to doing it sometime with my daughter, since I don’t live near the rest of my family.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Forgot to thank you for your congratulations! It’s an odd feeling to see a blog post go viral, but at the same time it’s great fun to see the numbers shoot up with views all over the world! I posted it Wednesday and it’s now Friday–that post seems to have taken on a life of its own!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Iva Lee–how interesting! Do you still have her recipe–and do you ever make it yourself? What town in Kentucky was she from? I’m from Kansas, with parents who came of age during WWII rationing and the Great Depression. Those events shaped their lives and they were very frugal and “made do,” even when they were financially secure in later years. I still do things like save string, reuse wrapping paper and ribbons, reuse jars….because that’s the way I was raised!

      Liked by 1 person

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