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Apple stack cake, served up with family memories

December 29, 2009|By MARY CONSTANTINE / Scripps Howard News Service

An apple stack cake is as individual as the person who makes it.

Apple stack cake is a traditional Southern Appalachian food whose purpose has changed over the years.

"The story goes that the cakes were served as wedding cakes," said Norma Idom, a volunteer re-enactor at the Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"There have been several books published (about Appalachia history) that tell how each guest would bring a cake layer and the hostess would stack the cakes up using dried apples as the filling. The more layers the cake had, the more popular the bride," she said.

Today these cakes are rarely served at weddings, but remain a holiday tradition in many homes.

"My apple stack cake recipe is from my former mother-in-law, the late Sara Carmon. She made it at Christmas time. After I got the recipe I began making it for Thanksgiving," said Mary Lou White Jordan, of Etowah, Tenn.

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It's a practice the family has followed for 30 years.

Jordan said the recipe makes a five-layer stack cake, but she has seen them prepared with as many as eight layers.

"It's not difficult to make, it's just a little time-consuming," she said.

She dries her own apples, then when ready to use, cooks them with a little water until the consistency is right. Then she adds applesauce and apple butter to the filling mixture. After she has assembled the cake she lets it sit overnight, which she said is the key to a moist cake.

But be forewarned. The cake is deceivingly heavy.

"I dropped the first one I made because I wasn't expecting it to be so heavy," she said.

Melanie Hyams of Knoxville, Tenn., said her grandmother, the late Janette Elizabeth Hatmaker, was well-known for her apple stack cake recipe.

The cake became very popular with her customers at H&H Restaurant, which she owned.

"She was known for her apple stack cakes, fried pies and other things. During lunchtime there would be people lined up outside waiting to get in that worked at Standard Knitting Mill," she said.

Hyams said the success of her pie hinged on the filling.

"One of the things that made her apple stack cake so great was she made her own applesauce. Apparently she added spices like nutmeg and that kind of thing to the filling," she said.

The three-generation recipe for an eight-layer apple stack cake originated with Hatmaker's mother, Hyams' great-grandmother.

She said she has few memories of her grandmother, but has many fond memories of her Aunt Helen Hodges (Hatmaker's daughter), who would bring the cake to holiday functions.

"I remember growing up that we would have one every year. I'm figuring she made those cakes for at least 50 or 60 years," she said.

Her request for the recipe resulted in Hyams and her Aunt Helen spending a day in the kitchen together.

"She said, 'I can't just write it down for you. I've got to come over and show you how to do it,' " she said.

Hyams took "copious notes" during the session "because I didn't want to leave any detail to chance."

She transferred the notes to a computer diskette that she no longer has the ability to open.

"I typed it all up and even sent a copy to my brother. Nobody seems to know what they did with their copy," she said.

She's found a business that will transfer the information.

Florence Mitchell of Powell, Tenn., learned to make apple stack cake from her mother-in-law, the late Jamie Foster Mitchell. She usually makes a six-layer cake but has made an eight-layer cake before.

The filling she uses depends on how much time she has.

"I usually dry my own apples and then cook them. But using apple butter is good, too," she said.

She remembers the cakes being referred to as "poor man's cake" because they were made with common pantry ingredients.

"A lot of people like biscuits and apple butter, and it's just about what it tastes like. It's delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner," she said.

Tina Shelton, manager of Knoxville's Village Bakery, said the bakery has offered the cake for at least 30 years, 20 of which she has managed.

She uses a family recipe.

"We make five layers with a filling of cooked apples mixed with applesauce and apple butter," she said.

The recipes featured below include Jordan's and Mitchell's family recipes and a recipe developed for White Lily Flour.




MARY LOU WHITE JORDAN'S
APPLE STACK CAKE



Cake:

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

Filling:

1 quart dried apples, packed tightly, or 6 large apples (Granny Smith and Winesaps), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Water
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple butter
1/4 cup molasses mix

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