Appalachian Food

Best Black Walnut Cake EVER!

One of my favorite things to make when the holidays roll around is an Arsh Potato (Tater) Cake. The word arsh is a mountain corruption of the word Irish. Granny and Pap always differentiated between white potatoes and sweet potatoes by calling the white ones arsh taters or potatoes.

Years ago Granny worked with a nice lady in Hayesville. Knowing Granny loved black walnuts the lady shared her family’s recipe for Arsh Potato Cake. It’s my favorite cake of all the many that Granny has made over the years. These days Granny lets me make the cake and share its goodness with her. I make one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Looks like I’d make the recipe more often since I like it so much, but the taste fits perfectly with other special holiday dishes.

The age of the original recipe is indicated by the ingredient list which includes sweet milk and a lump of butter. Over the years Granny came up with an appropriate measurement for the butter.

Arsh Potato Cake

  • 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 handy to warm up when I make the cake)
  • 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)

Arsh Potato Cake 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 a little less
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

Beat egg whites till light and fluffy; set aside.

Cream butter and sugar thoroughly.

Sift together dry ingredients; set aside.

Add vanilla to butter and sugar; mix well.

Add mashed potatoes mix well.

Alternately add dry ingredients and milk; mix well after each addition.

Fold in black walnuts.

Fold in egg whites.

Pour into greased and floured 9 inch cake pans. The cake can stick so I often use parchment paper instead of greasing the pans.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or till done.

Remove cake from oven and let cool before removing from pan.

For the icing: cook cream, sugar, and reserved egg yolks over low heat until slightly thickened.

Remove from heat; stir in butter.

Stir in coconut and black walnuts

When icing the cake I don’t worry about the sides. Place one layer on a cake plate and spread icing evenly. Add other layer and pour the rest of the icing on top spreading evenly allowing icing to drip down the sides where it will.

If possible make the cake a day or so ahead of when you need it to let the flavors marry.

I found it interesting Jim’s Applesauce Cake called for a small amount of cocoa and this one does too.


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  • Reply
    August 31, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    My grandmother had us keep black walnuts in our sock drawers – probably to keep the moths away, but the walnuts really smelled good, thanks for triggering that memory.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    June 28, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    I was about 16 years old befoe I found our “Ice” potatoes were Irish potatoes. At Flat Creek we had Ice potatoes not Arsh potatoes! I was fortunate to grow up in an area that had it’s own way of pronouncing things.

  • Reply
    Marv Young
    April 20, 2021 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Tipper, I just found your Blog, stories, YouTube site and I am loving it. You’ve done it now, you’ve made my face all wet. I grew up in Kentucky on Arsh Creek just over from Blaine. I think I found out at about age 8 that Arsh Creek was Irish Creek. I sure do like this recipe and soon as I can get to the store I’ll sure be making this one.
    Thank you so much for all your posts and stories. I’m back HOME whenever I read them. My homeplace now is covered by a big ole lake. They can take the land but not my memories. Love you and your whole family.

  • Reply
    Trudy Barnes
    January 22, 2021 at 11:07 am

    I hear it spoken as Ir’sh, but phonetically as Arsh.

    What a great recipe! It is similar to the German Chocolate Cake my mother in law always made for special occasions. But she used much more cocoa, and the walnuts were only included in the icing. Either way, the cake does get better the longer it sits out. Thanks for sharing! We can’t wait to make it. I have a gluten intolerance, so will try it with Cup4Cup Gluten Free Flour.

    Gary and I love hearing your stories and watching you make the best Southern/ Appalachian dishes!

  • Reply
    December 7, 2020 at 9:56 am

    I’m from Georgia but most all of my relatives came over and settled in SC,NC,TN, etc. When
    my mother made fresh green beans, she always used “new Irish’ potatoes. They were the red potatoes. She used to set them in a pan of water and “scrape” the peel off with a paring knife (the skin was very thin). Please educate me………were these potatoes I speak of the same as “Arsh” potatoes? Thank you.

    • Reply
      December 7, 2020 at 10:13 am

      Georgia-I believe they were the same, at least in my house Granny and Pap called all white potatoes arsh potatoes 🙂

  • Reply
    Pamela Danner
    December 10, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    My Mom used to say arsh potatoes. This cake looks and sounds delicious! Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  • Reply
    December 4, 2018 at 1:33 am

    My mother always called potatoes “arsh”…my eyes started leaking when I saw this word and recipe!
    Thank you.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    Oh my, this cake sounds so goooood! Must try it.
    I picked up on the little bit of cocoa, too. Do you find that often in the regional recipes?
    I wonder whether one could notice a difference in taste or texture if the cocoa was left out. It’s such a small amount.
    Hmmm, the Arsh Potato Cake cocoa mystery!
    Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    • Reply
      December 4, 2018 at 8:42 am

      Linda-I think the cocoa does add something and I’m sure it helps give the cake a richer color 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Tip, I love your Arsh Potato Cake. The last one you made I’d sneak a little every time I came by just cause I like it so much.
    That’s saying a lot cause I don’t usually care that much for Black Walnuts.
    Ed, Arsh isn’t a corruption, it’s a variety of potato!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      December 3, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Miss Cindy, I was trying to say that the pronunciation of Arsh may have been the way it was spoken when our Scots-Irish forbearers first brought it from the old country. The Scots-Irish came here a hundred and fifty years before the Great Irish Migration in the mid 1850s and were a completely different culture than what we usually think of “The Irish”. They were Protestants whereas the later ones were mostly Catholic. They were forced from England, Scotland and parts of continental Europe for their beliefs. They were then pushed out of Ireland for the same reasons and most of them eventually settled in the Appalachians. That is why Catholic Churches are few in this part of the country. Protestant church were here and well established before the Great Potato Famine and other influences forced the later wave of “Irish” to come to the United States.
      The vast majority of Scots-Irish did not come to the United States. There was no United States when they came. Their rugged independent spirit was a major cause of the rebellion against British rule. Our Scots-Irish ancestors came here and cleared a “new ground” where “the tired, the poor, the huddled mass,the wretched refuse, the homeless and the tempest-tossed” could first survive, then live free.

      I sure hope you were paying attention and taking notes because there is going to be a pop quiz tomorrow.

      • Reply
        December 7, 2020 at 9:51 am

        Ed, sure enjoyed your history lesson! I have wondered about the Irish & Scots-Irish in my & my husband’s ancestry who were here in the 1700’s. Glad to learn something. Thanks!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2018 at 11:51 am

    My maternal grandmother always called white potatoes Irish potatoes. She was of German descent, and the Germans certainly eat lots of potatoes.

  • Reply
    Darrell Cook
    December 3, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Thanks Tipper, My Mom used to make a cake like this 40 plus years ago. I was a kid and enjoyed gathering walnuts to crack for the cake. I hope this one is as good. I will bake this and surprise her for Christmas. I appreciate your blog each day. I live 2.5 hours from Blairsville, but feel back at home each time I read your articles. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 3, 2018 at 10:28 am

    I don’t think the word Arsh is a mountain corruption. That is probably how it was pronounced when our Scots-Irish ancestors came here 250 years ago. We have been preserving it in its purest state since then.
    My littlest grandson was here yesterday and we were playing a word game on my computer. He was sounding out his letters and trying to make words with them. Every time he said i, I noticed he pronounced it like the mainstream, ie. “Whirred you learn to talk boy?” “ie?” “You Moma says i, your Daddy says i, whirred you learn to put an e on it?” He just looked at me like I was crazy (which I am but he ain’t old enough to know that.)

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    December 3, 2018 at 10:17 am

    I love black walnuts & I have some on hand–got to make this cake!!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    December 3, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Hi Tipper, I’ve never made a Potato Cake before. Sounds interesting and good. The icing is almost exactly like my icing for German Chocolate cake, except I put in more butter and a tsp of vanilla. Anything with that icing on it has to be good – Yum!

    • Reply
      December 7, 2020 at 9:59 am

      Yes, Janet, I noticed lots of similarities to our family fave, German Chocolate Cake. Beaten egg whites, etc. pecans instead of walnuts in the icing… Wonder if changes were made to accommodate available walnuts or?

  • Reply
    December 3, 2018 at 9:01 am

    That does look and by the list of ingredients sound so tasty, thanks for sharing the recipe … 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 3, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Wow! Nearly two cups of black walnuts. That has got to be good. What does the potatoes add, I wonder.

  • Reply
    Doug Shook
    December 3, 2018 at 7:43 am


    The cake sounds great but your post brought to mind a Sunday dinner I brought my girlfriend to after church one Sunday. Everything was going great until Dad asked my girlfriend if she would like more Arsh potatoes. A look of confusion came over her face and she politely begged his pardon. Enjoying myself far too much to interrupt right away, I let her beg my dad’s pardon a couple of times more. Of course Dad simply kept pronouncing “Arsh” as plainly as he could, which only added to her confusion and my delight. Deciding it was time to enlighten the dear girl, I gave her the same explanation you mentioned above.

    We still laugh about it nearly 40 years later. Yep, even though she failed that test, that girl agreed to become my wife. She no longer gets confused when someone mentions English peas, either. She still can’t understand my eating cornbread and milk. Now that was nearly a deal breaker!

    Love your posts! Thanks for a little taste of home first thing every morning!

    Doug Shook

    • Reply
      December 4, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Doug-what a great story! Thank you for sharing it and glad you both have been laughing about it together for 40 years-a real accomplishment!

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