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Stacking traditions

By Glen Liford, Editor 11/15/2018


Old-fashioned apple stack cake is an Appalachian delicacy that makes its appearance in the Liford household each Christmas.
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Of all the Christmas traditions that my family carries out each holiday season, our food choices are among those that bring us together and enhance our celebration.

Of course, there’s the ham and turkey that take center stage. But my mom’s, Peggy Liford, dressing is something I look forward to at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her recipe is not something she has written out, and her result is unlike any other dressing I have eaten. It’s a bold-flavored dish packed with sage and black pepper, celery, and onions and baked until the edges are crispy.

For years before my grandmother, Lizzie Liford, passed away, she would always have multiple containers of her homemade candy during the holidays. Her buckeye candy (chocolate-dipped balls of peanut butter and powdered sugar) and rolls of divinity were favorites of the entire family.

Among the other treats we look forward to every Christmas is my mom’s stack cake. It’s the old-fashioned kind with multiple layers of slightly sweet cake stacked carefully with an enticing, fragrant apple filling generously slathered between each one. It must sit at least overnight for that flavorful filling to seep in to the cake layers and make it as good as it can be.

This recipe was passed down from my grandmother, and who knows how many generations before. My aunt, Fern Butcher, refined it a bit, making her layers as thin as possible and creating scalloped edges with the help of a fluted pie plate used like a biscuit cutter. My mom learned her technique, and the result has been pleasing our family for years. While my aunt preferred to use dried apples for the filling, mom relies on frozen ones cooked until almost the consistency of sauce.

“People either love it or they hate it,” says mom, noting there are not many middle-of-the-road fans for the dish.

The not-overly-sweet flavor and the texture of the cake layers are what appeal to me. The cake tends to crumble easily, and it complements the gooey filling perfectly.

The delicious concoction is not unique to our family, but it is common to many parts of Appalachia. It’s referred to as Appalachian Stack Cake, Tennessee Cake, and Kentucky Cake depending on where you are.  A search of the internet reveals the history of the regional dish is as muddy as the origins of the name. Wikipedia says it originated when a couple couldn’t afford a wedding cake and guests would each bring a layer to the celebration. The bride’s family would then spread apple butter or dried apples between the layers. Another theory is that it originated in the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg, Ky., and was brought from Pennsylvania by the original settler James Harrod.

Whatever its origins, it will be on the table at our home this Christmas.

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