Around 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