Appalachia Appalachian Food

Cake Making on Peeks Creek

cake folklore from Appalachia

“Grandma even baked cakes on the fireplace. She baked them in this oven I’ve got here. It came down to her from her grandmother. And when Grandma was married in 1888, her wedding cake was baked in it. It was a yellow pound cake and my great-aunt Annie Strain, who used to stay with us a lot, helped make it. When I was growing up, Mama always told me when I made a cake never to let anybody else stir the cake batter. She said it would cause it to fall. She never would let anybody stir the batter. Neither would my grandmother nor my great-grandmother. And I won’t either. There’s another thing too. In mixing a cake by hand, you never stir it two ways. You always stir it one way. I stir mine clockwise. Even with a mixer, I never switch it from one side to the other. I keep it going in one direction. Mother always said a cake would fall if you stirred it two ways. She said you had to stir cake batter like you stir lye soap, one way.”

Excerpt from Pothooks and Spiders – Peeks Creek – Mountain Cooking written by John Parris


Now that you know how to stir your cake the right way, here’s a few of my favorite cake recipes from the Blind Pig and The Acorn archives.


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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 26, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    I don’t think John Parris had any children and had only one half sister, Elsie who married a Stillwell. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any nephews. John is my 3rd cousin 1X removed.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2017 at 10:40 am

    I like to make cakes, Bunt Style. I stir in all kinds of directions when making my cakes and I’ve
    never had one to Fall. I remember momma warning us not to slam the door or not be fighting in the kitchen when she baked a cake.
    Them ole Arthur brothers have set-up in the two littleist fingers on my left hand and it’s giving me a fit. Last week me and Whisky both got inoculated going up the steps by them pesky Jackets. The next day I knocked that booger onto the ground with my Walkinstick. I’ll show ’em! …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Most right handed people generally stir clockwise while lefties like me stir counterclockwise. It is just easier to do. I am a little ambiguous at times so either way feels natural.
    I wonder if the Peeks Creek mentioned by Mr. Parris is the same one where that big mudslide happened back a few years ago.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    June 26, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Well my sweetheart knew one of those Parris brothers (HAROLD) from Sylva, NC. They finished college together at Western Carolina University. Harold was probably the nephew of John Parris. Everybody knew and appreciated John with all his writings! His writings preserved lots of history for folks. He may have written “Musing of a Mountaineer” which MANY FOLKS read. It was a very popular book! It is probably out of print – but may be available in the local libraries.
    Hope your day is just perfect! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 26, 2017 at 9:50 am

    The fireplace oven is called a Dutch Oven. It’s not like most of today’s dutch ovens. It stood on three legs and sat in the coals. The lid is flat not domed like most of the modern ones. You regulated the heat by add coals to the lid or not. Lodge still makes them.
    The vast majority of my cakes have been the cornbread kind and it don’t matter how you stir it. It is good mixed up in a hub cap and stirred with your jack handle.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Mixing a cake by hand was the only way Mom ever made a cake. She made a delicious frosting that was most likely one of her own creations. She never called it frosting, just icing. The chocolate frosting she made was a firm texture made of simple ingredients. I wish I had paid more attention.
    My sister and I just had a good laugh while I was mixing a buttermilk pie last week. I asked her if she remembered Mom saying that she was knocking up a cake. She remembered at least one of my aunts saying the same thing when she was ‘knocking up’ meringue.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2017 at 9:01 am

    When my wife bakes a cake, brownies or cobbler I always do the stirring. I stir both ways, The last time I remember a cake falling was when my sister slammed the kitchen door.
    I remember being told the dew would give me blood poisoning if I let it into a cut. It probably wasn’t the dew but the germs on the ground.

  • Reply
    June 26, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Wish I could see the oven. My Kansas grandmother had a wood stove and oven in the kitchen and it always fascinated me to watch her set the fire and test it by sticking her arm in the firebox. Everything from cakes to biscuits to pancakes always came out just right.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    June 26, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I received an electric mixer as a wedding gift in 1954, but I didn’t use it for cakes until the 1990s because I thought cakes should be mixed by hand! Now I use my mixer, and I can’t tell one whit of difference in hand-mixed and mixer-mixed cakes.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 26, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Also, please don’t slam that screen door on your way out, I’ve got a cake in the oven! After adding the eggs one at a time and stirring all in one direction then adding the flour a little at a time and stirring in one direction…etc. Then carefully pouring the batter in the cake pans on an even suface and bouncing out a few big bubbles not many, I sure don’t want that cake to fall from the loud noise of the kitchen screen door slamming!
    Never did understand that one…unless it is a souffl√©, chiffon or angle food cake! I don’t think a lard or butter cake would fall unless it was dropped! ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…I love chocolate zucchini cake…plus Black Walnut, zucchini and banana bread!
    IN fact we’re have a small slice of Banana nut bread with our coffee this morning! yummm! I didn’t stir it at all….fer it is frum Costco bakery! ha

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 26, 2017 at 6:56 am

    I wonder what that oven looked like, the one to bake in a fire place. I also wonder where the idea came from that you can only stir in one direction.
    The mountain people were always very inventive, creating tools to meet their needs. They also tended to be strangely superstitious. When my foot was cut my grandmother would not let me outside till the sun dried the dew saying it would poison me if the dew got in the open cut.

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