Appalachia Appalachian Food

Apple Stack Cake = The Cake Of Love

traditional apple stack cake from appalachia

Freshly assembled traditional apple stack cake

I’ve heard about apple stack cakes my whole live long life-but I never tasted one until I co-taught a cooking class at the folk school. After making the cake in class, we also discussed the reasons why apple stack cake has become almost synonymous with Appalachia.

Fellow blogger, Dave Tabler covered much of the history on his great site-Appalachian History:

At holidays and weddings, early mountain settlers traditionally served stack cake in lieu of more fancy, and costly, cakes. Neighbors 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.

On the website, GILT Taste, Stella Parks discusses an interesting phenomenon regarding the apple stack cake recipe. The first widely published recipe for the cake appeared in 1980-however historians know the cake has been around much longer than the year 1980. Regarding the absence of published recipes Ms. Parks wrote:

Some more digging in cookbooks, though, and I found that while apple stack cake may not have appeared in print before the 1980s, it may be in part because, like the brides who served it at their infares, it too changed its name. In those early years, it appeared in cookbooks everywhere under the guise of “apple short cake.” Helen M. Robinson’s The Practical Cook Book, published in 1864, describes apple short cake as a huge biscuit wheel, split in two and filled with stewed apples; a cro-magnon sort of stack cake, but still. By 1877‘s The Cultivator & Country Gentleman, Volume 42, it had evolved into two biscuit wheels, split, brushed with melted butter, filled with homemade apple jam, stacked, sprinkled with nutmeg, and served warm with fresh sweet cream poured over the top. (A preparation known in the trade as, “holy mother of yum.”)

A decade later, the ghost of Alvin Wood Chase would push apple short cake toward its final incarnation. Chase, last seen elucidating the origins of red velvet cake, died three years before the publication of his Third, Last, and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician, but in it he includes a “receipt” for Apple Short Cake. Where previous recipes for apple short cake revolved around simple buttermilk biscuits, Chase’s “sweet short cake” contained both sugar and egg, marking the first step of apple short cake’s transformation into a proper cake.

Ms. Parks also points out that while the recipe for apple stack cake wasn’t popular enough to appear in a nationally published cookbook till 1980, it was published in literally hundreds of community or church type cookbooks from all areas of Appalachia over the years preceding 1980.

It only took one bite of the cake for me to understand the way people go on about apple stack cakes-it is beyond yum! But after studying the history of the cake, I do believe I’d like it no matter the taste-because I see it as a cake of true love.

Love because it symbolized a holy union between a loving couple.

Love because traditionally each layer was made with love by people who wanted the loving couple to get a good start on marriage.

Love because for years and years the recipe was saved and handed down from one generation to the next-even though the culinary world at large wasn’t much interested in it.

Love because for generations the cake has defined not only marriages in Appalachia, but also Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, and any other celebration you can name.



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  • Reply
    Jill Elaine Young
    June 12, 2021 at 2:03 am

    Hello again Tipper. You have such a wonderful way to bring back so many treasured memories of my 1950s childhood in Flat Rock, NC at my Grandma and Papa’s small farm where Grandma cooked seven days a week. Her pantry was full of so many colorful jars containing the bounty her and Papa had planted grown and harvested themselves. My nearby hometown of Hendersonville was known as the apple capital of the world and robustly celebrated an Apple Festival annually complete with a parade and live nusuc. We closed down Main St in town and had a street dance every Monday (except for during the very coldest months) and during the festival. Needless to say apples were always plentiful and Grandms made an Icebox Applesauce Cake that was a version of your stack cake. She made bisquits nearly every meal and saved any leftoves for this phenomenal cake. She would split the biscuits in half then lavish layer upon layer of them with buttered, spiced and sweetened applesauce that seemed to be a reduction it was so luscious and richly flavored, these creations were often 10 layers tall and the longer it sat in the “icebox” the better it got. It would even hold up to being sliced and served as if it were truly a fine layer cake. None of her 28 grandchildren have the recipe but we rejoice in having had the best of grandparents and the sweetest memories of times long gone when we were all alive together and the food so lovingly grown and prepared nourished our souls as well as our growing bodies. The memories play like the kind of music that can be felt as well as heard. Each recipe Grandma concocted is it’s own special song. It was far too scrumptious to have been born of leftovers so Grandma must have had a magic wand hidden somewhere in that pantry.

  • Reply
    PS Koger
    February 9, 2021 at 8:23 am

    I have eaten this type of stack cake. Also in our part of Ky some people make one that has 5-7 different flavors of cake all stacked up. I don’t like that one.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    What a wonderful story and tradition, with a taste that, I am sure, will be wonderful as well.
    Thanks so much for sharing this with us Tipper. I know I’ll be waiting eagerly for the recipe and the instructions.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    barbara gantt
    February 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    My Grandma Nichols called this a stack of arrangments. She used biscuits, sliced them and spread with cooked apples. She lived in Waynesivlle but came as a girl from Pa down into Georgia and over the mountain to Waynesville. Barbara

  • Reply
    Teresa Cole
    February 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    I have been making Apple Stack Cakes for 15 years. The first one I made was for a family reunion. My grandmother made them and cookies with the left over batter. My grandmother had been deceased for about 20 years so my aunt gave me the recipe. When I make it for an occasion I love to look at peoples faces. You can almost see the reminisceing of times past. It is a labor of love for it can be very time consuming but worth it. I will be looking for your recipe to compare it to mine.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    February 12, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I always look forward to Phillips’ family parties because of the incredible fruit cakes. I absolutely refuse to learn how to make them, though. In my case apple stack cake would soon = FAT!

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    February 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I love those cakes. My mother and mother in law made them from dried fruit.. They didn’t need a special occasion to make them.. Mama would make two at a time..I can’t make them as good..

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Hope everybody doesn’t laugh but, is a stack cake a bunch of pancakes with apples between? That’s what it looks like.

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    My mama was the next to last of
    grandma’s 16 children. I remember
    her visiting us and she’d help my
    mama with making them apple stack
    cakes, about 5 or 6 layers high.
    We had lard, rendered from hogs
    that had been killed earlier and
    they put it into the flour mix.
    And we used a 25 pound sack of flour a week. Those biscuits
    mama made was “manna from heaven”
    and about once a month we enjoyed
    an apple stack cake made in oven
    of our old wood cookstove…Ken

  • Reply
    Belva-Jean mooner
    February 12, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Tipper, You sparked a beautiful memory this morning.My Big Mom from Harlan Co. Ky. made apple stack cakes that the mouth still waters for after nearly 58 years.God Bless.Jean

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Tipper, that looks wonderful. I’ve heard of stack cakes all my life but I’ve never made or eaten one. I think I’ll probably have to try it after you tell us how.
    I seem to recall that the stack cakes had to sit a while before cutting to allow the layers to absord the juice from the apples. However with a cake that looks like the one in your picture I can’t imagine it sitting too long.LOL!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    February 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    and Ethelene…A lot of cakes were made on the griddle over a hot fire…I think that is the best way to get the thin layer!
    There are a lot of griddle recipes in the old cookbooks using fruits…

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I too have only ever read about stack cake. It always sounded like a sloppy mess, but your cake is beautiful Tipper!

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I have never had a stack, but my family often had had a big hoecake of biscuit we would slather with butter and eat with best SWGa syrup made from red ribbon cane. If it is t rib on cane, it doesn’t have that little bite that is so good and balances out the sweetness!
    My grandmother frequently made fried pies as well, but I can’t remember how she did it! Does anyone have a recipe for a good apple cried pie(also known as apple tart)?

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    February 12, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Growing up in rural Haywood County I first became acquainted with “stack cakes” at church homecomings. Fried apple pies and stack cake were the first desserts to be eaten on those special days. My mother-in-law also made stack cakes and her dough tasted like cookie dough. I think she made them like she had grown up eating them on Cartoogajay in Macon County.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    February 12, 2013 at 11:09 am

    The best discussion I can find of the Apple Stack Cake comes in Joseph E. Dabney’s “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine” (The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking).
    Dabney says the legend is that James Harrod, the founder of Harrodsburg, brought the recipe with him when he came to Kentucky via the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap.
    Also, Dabney quotes a story that says pioneer families could not afford the expense of a wedding cake so neighbors brought to the bride’s family cake layers that would be donated to add to the cake. “As the layers arrived, the bride’s family would spread the apple filling between each.”
    Dabney reprints a recipe for Haywood County Stack Cake that dates from the 1800s and was used by Mrs. Dolphus Kerley of Waynesville, NC who died in January 1948 at the age of 90. She said the recipe came from her mother of Haywood County, NC.
    I highly recommend Dabney’s book. He is perhaps best known for his books on Moonshine including “Mountain Spirits.”

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    February 12, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Well Tipper, we will just have to get inspired and find our old recipe for STACK CAKE and get busy! It would be a delicious VALENTINE GIFT to a sweetheart!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Happy Abe Lincoln birthday!

  • Reply
    February 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

    This not only looks good, it sounds like a tasty bit of a treat. You see, I think a cake created with ones own hands is a labor of love. I am truly amazed how thin the layers are, and the apples spread between the layers remind me of an apple pie type. I am anxious to learn how to make such thin layers. I’m in ‘love’ with the thought of making one of these.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    February 12, 2013 at 10:15 am

    My mother-in-law could make the best stack cake ever. I do believe it has been made since the beginning of Eve and the apple. She said her mother made it…she was the cake queen of Birmingham some say…and her mother made it also…so that takes the time way back…My grandmothers both made the cake too…I found receipts for apple fillings for layer cakes inh my 1887 White House cookbook…There was not a recipe for a Stack Cake as called today…but I wondered about just the filling receipts..
    listed by themselves with no cake receipt with them…
    Always and always dried apples were used to make the filling. My mother-in-law said that dried apples is the only way to get the true flavor of the stack cake filling…All her layers were thin but not too thin…It could not be touched for a couple of days, wrapped in cheese cloth or pure cotton cloth so it would absorb the moisture of the filling. I’m not sure if she added just a touch of apple brandy or not…she would never say, if and when she added spark to her Christmas or Thanksgiving cakes…Maybe that is why I could never get mine to taste like hers…
    Thanks Tipper, looking forward to the receipt…I need to look up the receipt in an old apple orchard receipt brochure, pamphlet in one of my collections..Most all booklets from that era called cookbooks receipt books too….

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Stack cake is one of my favorites. In my area dried peaches and apricots are as popular as apples for making stack cake. The dried fruit is cooked with sugar and spices (mostly just a speck of cinnamon) and water of course, until it is the texture of thick applesauce. The dough is the same recipe as for fried pies and dumplings (as in chicken and dumplings) it is rolled out into rounds and fried in oil/lard until browned and crisp then stacked, spreading the fruit between the layers. When these are fresh with the crisp “cake” layered with the warm sweet fruit they are wonderful. I believe these are a little different from the stack cake of your area, in that yours looks a little more cake-like than the ones that are common here. Oh, and rather than whipped cream we butter ours and our fried pies also—-Let no fat grams go unconsumed! Ya’ll have a great day!

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    February 12, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Well, I knew stack cake was special, but had never heard the part about it being a wedding gift. I do know that my sister learned to make it for her husband because he really liked it, and he was a real NC mountain man — grew up in Cataloochee.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    February 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

    We called it Apple Stack Cake in Choestoe, my section of Appalachia. And my mother and her sisters, all of whom were adept at making it, called the Recipe a “Receipt” too, like Mr. Chase in his cook book. But they didn’t have to follow the “receipt.” They knew how to make it. And their dough did have flour, eggs and sugar (they knew just what proportions “by guess”). They poured the batter onto a hot iron “griddle pan” on the top of the stove–not too hot, because you didn’t want the layers to get too brown, just done. And then the cake-maker would flip it to the other side, and cook that side, too. The apple mixture would be ready, with the proper sugar and cinnamon mixture, and it was spread between the layers. I can remember my mother making stack cakes for our many “sorghum syrup makers” who ate their “dinner” (mid-day) meal at our house when they worked at my father’s sorghum syrup mill. And, at age 14, when I had to “take over” the household duties after my mother’s death, I, too, remembered the “receipt” of stack cake, and would make them for dessert for the workers. We used both fresh apple sauce and apple sauce made from dried apples for the filling between the thin layers of cake. And yes, I used the rich cream separated from our country milk, and in bowl, with an “egg-beater” operated by hand, I whipped the cream into white fronds, added just the right amount of sugar, and served it over a slice of the apple stack cake. Those were the days of “common” culinary delights–but wonderful!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    February 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

    There didn’t have to be a special occasion for Grandma to make her stack cake. In fact, this is the only cake I remember her ever making. It was so good! I’ve made it a few times, but not by her recipe, because she never had the recipe written down. If there was any left over dough, she made them into what she called ‘sweet cakes’ or cookies, which she put into Grandpa’s lunch box. On my blog, I have recipes listed on the right side bar of the page. Appalachian Stack Cake is the first one listed. If you click on it, you will see my version of the cake. Let it set a few days in the fridge and it gets so moist it’ll make your mouth water.

  • Reply
    Donna Godfrey
    February 12, 2013 at 8:16 am

    My husband worked with a man from Kentucky and whenever they went home his mom would send us her “secret” Apple Stack Cake. I never got the recipe because it was secret. So I look forward to see and trying the recipe.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    February 12, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I am 91 years old and as far back as I can remember I have eat STACK CAKES. My great grandma and great aunt made them regulary. They were easy to make and always the favorit for special meals.
    Charles Fletcher

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