Family Traditions

apple-layer-cake-01Around this time of year, I start thinking of my favorite foods. There are plenty, but there are two desserts that I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas. One of them is a dried apple cake.  This type of cake has been passed down from generation to generation in my family.  My grandmother taught her three daughters, but my mother is the only one who continued the tradition.  While I helped her, I haven’t made it on my own.  I am afraid that if I had it around, I would eat the whole thing in a couple of days.  In a bit of a role reversal my brother has served it at least three times during the holidays to his family. One day I will make it because it is on my bucket list.

Several years ago when I was browsing in a bookstore I picked up a cookbook on heritage recipes, and lo and behold there was the recipe for my family’s dried apple cake.  It wasn’t exactly the same but it was very similar. Their recipe called for molasses and ginger, and our apples are just sweetened with sugar, but both use dried apples as filling and have thin layers.

I also found out that this cake is known as stack cake, dried apple stack cake, apple stack cake, Confederate old fashioned stack cake, and Kentucky pioneer washday cake.  This type of cake  is the “most mountain of all cakes, since it originated in the Southern Appalachia.”  It also has a history of being a wedding cake too.  Sidney Saylor Farr talks more about it:

In the mountains weddings were celebrated with “in-fares” where people gathered to party, dance, and eat potluck food. Because wedding cakes were so expensive, neighbor cooks brought cake layers to donate to the bride’s family. The dough for the cake was rolled or pressed out into very thin layers and baked in cast-iron skillets. The family of the bride cooked, sweetened, and spiced dried apples to spread between the layers of the cake. The number of layers per stack of her wedding cake often gauged the bride’s popularity. Sometimes there would be as many as twelve layers, but most often the average was seven or eight layers. Along with weddings, the stack cake was served at family reunions, church suppers, and other large gatherings.

Wikipedia has a page on it too, and they give credit to James Harrod,  one of the original settlers in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

While it is not a difficult to make, it is very time consuming.  My mother used a sugar cookie recipe for the layers.  She rolled them out into thin layers, and then placed them on the reversed bottom of a cake pan and cooked them until lightly brown.  After all the layers are cooled, you then start stacking them, putting a cooked, sweetened dried apple mixture in between all the layers.  The cake has to sit overnight allowing the apple mixture to soak into the layers. It is so moist, and tastes wonderful.

Do you have a special family recipe that you make this time of year?  Do you know the history? Please tell.

- Leigh AAR

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12 Responses to “Family Traditions”

  1. maggie b. says:

    It is not a family recipe but growing up in St. Louis I loved a local recipe called gooey butter cake. Gooey butter is actually a batter used to help foods adhere to cake, such as nuts, crumbs, crushed candies. A baker mixed up regular batter with gooey butter and sold the cake anyway. It became a local favorite. I haven’t made the variant for home in awhile as I am the only one who truly loves it (which means I am the one who gains the five pounds from the gooey goodness of it) but that recipe calls for yellow cake mix and cream cheese.

    I love my grandmothers arros con pollo and my mom wrote down the recipe for me many years ago. I have been afraid to cook it less I ruin it.

  2. LinnieGayl says:

    Leigh, that cake recipe sounds very interesting. I’ve never heard of it before, and am having a bit of trouble imagining how the sugar cookie dough would work for the layers.

    My family didn’t have anything terribly creative for its holiday desserts. Our main thing was to always have pumpkin pie (sorry, not too unusual). I’m not overly fond of pie crust, however, so I try and vary it by doing a pumpkin custard of some kind.

    Maggie B, I love arroz con pollo. Haven’t made it in years, and am not even sure I have good recipe for it any more. I think I need to do a web search.

  3. Tee says:

    My mother was a great cook, but really didn’t do much baking. We’re Polish and lived in a community in Detroit that was primarily Polish, so we had bakeries all over the place and never lacked for Polish goodies. One such dessert is called chrusciki or Polish angel wings. But there are many others. Our Christmas meal was usually quite simple, but lots of everything (gołąbki, kielbasa, sauerkraut, pierogi, you name it). My mother explained that she came from the farmlands of Poland outside Krakow and, according to her, city living and farm living were different (she was born in 1913 and came to America when she was six).

    One tradition, though, remains to this day within our families and other Polish families and that’s the breaking of opłatek at either or both the Christmas eve and day dinners. Family members and friends break off a small piece of the opłatek wafer (unleavened) and give it to one another along with a blessing. Breaking off and exchanging part of the opłatek with someone is a symbol of forgiveness between two people and is meant to remind participants of the importance of Christmas, God and family.

    So, it’s not exactly the kind of information you were looking for, but it is a rich tradition for those who practice it and it does involve “food.” LOL

  4. Leigh says:

    It is difficult to visualize, but once the apple mixture soaks into the cookie layers they are very soft. Cooking the layers is difficult, because they tend to break, since they are a very very large cookie. You roll out the dough, turn a cake pan upside down, and put the dough on the rounded bottom. My mother put two or three pans in the oven at the same time. I guess you could use anything that allowed you to have a uniform round very large cake size cookie.

  5. Leigh says:

    “Breaking off and exchanging part of the opłatek with someone is a symbol of forgiveness between two people and is meant to remind participants of the importance of Christmas, God and family”

    Tee, that sounds like a wonderful tradition and a way to keep relationships strong.

  6. Leigh says:

    Maggie, I am almost feel the same way about making the cake as you are about making arroz con pollo. What if the way I make it, spoils my wonderful memories.

  7. Jo-Ann W. says:

    Maggie, are you able to share that butter cake recipe? You can email me if you like at jobean131 at gmail.com. Thanks!

  8. maggie b. says:

    This is Paula Dean’s version:

    http://www.pauladeen.com/recipes/view2/gooey_butter_cake

    Here is the version I have always made:

    1 pkg. yellow cake mix
    1 stick (1/2 c.) butter
    1 egg

    Mix together cake mix (just the mix, not the other ingredients called for on the box) with butter and 1 egg. Pat into an ungreased 9×13 inch cake pan.

    GOOEY BUTTER:

    1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
    2 eggs
    1 (1 lb.) box confectioners’ sugar
    1 tsp. vanilla

    Cream together cream cheese, 2 eggs, powdered sugar and vanilla. Pour over cake mixture, spreading to the edges.

    Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.

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  11. Louie Ownbey says:

    Thanks for your write-up. I also feel that laptop computers have become more and more popular currently, and now are usually the only form of computer included in a household. This is due to the fact that at the same time that theyre becoming more and more cost-effective, their computing power is growing to the point where theyre as powerful as personal computers coming from just a few in years past.