Appalachia Appalachian Food

Arsh Potato Black Walnut Cake

Irish Potatoe Cake

My favorite black walnut cake is Arsh Potato Cake-Granny has made it for years. She said she got the recipe from some ladies she used to work with in Hayesville. It seems to be an old recipe-you can tell from the ingredient list-it calls for things like sweet milk and a lump of butter.

I suppose the name is supposed to be “Irish Potato Cake”-but Granny calls it ‘arsh potato cake’. Older folks in my part of Appalachia often call white potatoes arsh potatoes. I think they call them that to differentiate white potatoes from sweet potatoes. I’ve heard Granny and Pap say arsh potato my whole life.

The cake is time consuming to make-and it’s so rich you can’t eat more than a small piece at a time-but it’s so good!


  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup warm mashed potatoes (If I have mashed potatoes left over from supper-I pop them in the freezer so I’ll have them when I make the cake. Or you can boil up a potato and mash it right when you need it.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sodie (baking soda)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sweet milk (just regular whole milk)
  • 1 cup black walnuts
  • 3 egg whites beaten light (save the yolks for the icing)


  • 1 cup sweet cream (or evaporated milk)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 beaten egg yolks
  • 1 lump butter (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup black walnuts or less or none
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

Black Walnut Cake 

~first beat egg whites till light and fluffy; set aside.

~cream butter and sugar thoroughly

Best black walnut cake
~sift together all the dry ingredients except the cocoa; set aside

Potato cake
~after the butter and sugar are creamed add cocoa and vanilla; mix well

~add mashed potatoes mix well

Back walnut potato cake
~alternately add dry ingredients and milk; mix well after each addition ~fold in black walnuts

~fold in egg whites

~pour into greased and floured cake pans (I use two 8 inch round cake pans and have enough batter left to put in a small loaf pan. I think Granny uses her 9 inch round cake pans and it works out.)

Mashed potato cake 

~bake at 350 for 30 minutes or till done (It takes 28 minutes in my oven for the size pans I use.)

~remove cake from pans and let cool (Mine always stick a little-maybe you could use parchment paper to prevent sticking? But since I worry more about taste than appearance I never take the time to try it.)

Coconut icing
~to make the icing-cook cream, sugar, and reserved egg yolks over low heat until thick (The icing isn’t very thick-its more the pour and let drip kind.)

~remove from heat; stir in butter

~stir in coconut and black walnuts

Arsh Potato Cake
~I don’t worry about the sides-I place one layer on the cake stand pour some icing on it- then place the other layer on top and add the rest of the icing spreading it evenly on top-allowing it to drip where it will down the sides.

The cake is actually sweet enough that if you wanted to forgo the icing it would still be very tasty-especially with a big glass of milk.

If you decide to try the recipe-please let me know if you like it.


p.s. I looked in the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English to see if the word ‘arsh’ was in there-it was. The book documents the word being used in 1939-Roaring Fork TN; 1942; 1991-Haywood Home.

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in Dec of 2010.

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  • Reply
    February 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Inez-its just regular white sugar. And Im sure the cake would be just as good with store bought walnuts : ) Stay warm!!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Inez Jones
    February 9, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Good Morning Tipper-It’s a snowy, blowing day here in my area. Nemo making it’s appearance. I’m wondering in the recipe for the icing- is that regular white sugar or icing sugar? Also, I would say we would have to use regular walnuts (from the store).We have no walnut trees in New Brunswick.(At least that I know about),Inez Jones

  • Reply
    January 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Tim-I’m postive the cake would work just as well in a sheet pan.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Sounds wonderful, but since I’m diabetic, I’ll have to pass on it.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Using mashed potatoes in a cake recipe makes perfect sense to me – sweet, starchy, and moist. Sure wish I had a piece of that cake right about now!

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    January 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Sounds like a it’d be so delicious.. I’ve heard them called Arsh Potatoes all my life..

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Folks here in Texas have said arash potatoes, too and sweet milk. You just brought back a great memory. Thanks for sharing the recipe and flash of memory.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    January 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    and Charles..I remember one of my grandmothers calling walnuts “warnets”…We always thought it funny, when I was a child. Until my Dad said, (it was his Mom), a lot of old folks called walnuts, “warnets”! She was getting up in her late eighties…so we thought it was just an old age thing, boy did we get called on the carpet!
    I love “black warnet cake” so I am sure I would love the “arsh” potatoes added. Eyerish got transposed to Rrish to Arsh…which seems just fine to this half Irish gal..
    Thanks For great post…Tipper,
    PS, I happen to have a great piece of art that is called a Black Walnut (warnet) Cracker…handmade by one of your neighbors…Works like a charm and the base is beautiful wood..
    Thanks Ken for the great job you did in making our Walnut Cracker..

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    I’m kinda like Lonnie, can’t
    imagine what an ‘arsh potato cake’
    would taste like, but anything you
    fix looks so good.
    This warm weather makes me want to
    trout fish on the beautiful Nantahala, and fry up a mess over
    on Ledbetter…Ken

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Interesting recipe. My parents called them “arsh” taters as well. We lived near “Arsh Creek.” I was a teen before I knew it was really Irish Creek.

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    January 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Certainly will be trying this and maybe those walnut crackers too. Just hope I can save some mashed potatoes – love them so much that there are rarely any left over. Will have to just boil one or two up.

  • Reply
    Tim Hassell
    January 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I have a recipe for a very similar “Arsh Tater Cake” it uses pecans and more eggs but is basically the same cake. My recipe came from a cook book published by a locally famous cafe in Arkansas (it is no longer in business). The owner and “ramrod” of the establishment was Ruby Jones, born in 1902, and famous for her Arsh tater cake.
    I wonder if you could make this as a “sheet” cake? I don’t like fiddlin’ with trying to stack layers, mine always slide no matter what I try.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Grandpa Ken-I have the best black walnut cracker in the world-you can go here to see it:
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for sharing the recipe for this luscious cake. My daughter loves to bake, so I’m going to ask her to make us one. I have heard Irish potatoes all my life.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 11, 2013 at 9:09 am

    The cake sounds great but makes my blood sugar soar just reading about it. As I was growing up Arsh Taters were a major food group. Many meals consisted of Boiled Arsh Taters slathered with fresh churned butter accompanied by a pone of Cornbread and a glass of fresh Sweet Milk. I still love Arsh Taters and often use left over mashed taters as thickening for vegtable beef soup and my beloved bride makes tater cakes that will make your tongue slap your brains out. Arsh Taters have prevented many an Applachain Child from having to go to bed hungry, this may have been related to the high number of Scotch-Irish who settled these mountains as Arsh Taters were a major food staple in Ireland which resulted in the Irish Potato name even though they actually originated in Central and South America. The Great Potato Famine in Ireland was one of the reasons so many Irish migrated to America.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Sounds good, I bet the arsh potato keeps it moist. That looks like a Blue Ridge Pottery plate the slice of cake is shown on. Don’t see many of those any more.

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    January 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

    Potatoes taste better when you call them “arsh”…but I still wonder about the cake!

  • Reply
    grandpa Ken
    January 11, 2013 at 8:20 am

    How do you get two cups of black walnuts? Would take me a year or two get that many shelled out. Do you have a way to get them out better?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 11, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Does it have to have arsh taters. Wonder how it would be with sweet taters instead? Not yeller sweet taters. White ones. The yeller ones ain’t fit to eat. The white straight ones that you bake in the oven, peel and eat like a banana. I ain’t no baker and don’t eat a lot of sweets but I think I might just try thisen.
    I just have to find the taters. Most stores don’t have them and look at you like you’re crazy if you ask for them.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 7:55 am

    This sounds definitely yummy. It almost seems like it could be a holiday speciality. I can’t believe that your family gets to enjoy such great treasures. Thanks for the morning sweet treat.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    January 11, 2013 at 7:42 am

    Many years ago I remember the old
    timers calling walnuts “Warnets”
    Will you look this word up?
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 7:35 am

    My, that sure looks good! It must be very dense and moist with the mashed potatoes in it. I just might give it a try during our next bad cold spell.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    January 11, 2013 at 7:05 am

    That looks delicious,, we love those “Arsh potatoes aka taters….

  • Reply
    January 11, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Have made a cake similar to this. Since I never had black walnuts I used hickory nuts. Love the yellow icing,it’s soooo good. Sure would go great with this cup of coffee.

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