Sunday, September 09, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Tennessee III - This Cake Is STACKED!

The Appalachian Mountains extend from Newfoundland to Alabama, but the cultural region we think of as "Appalachia" (with a long or a short a) roughly stretches from Pennsylvania and West Virginia through to Alabama.  Tennessee runs smack dab in the middle of this, and you will find many Appalachian classics right in the Volunteer State.

Official Name: State of Tennessee
State Nickname: The Volunteer State
Admission to the US: June 1, 1796 (#16)
Capital: Nashville (2nd largest, but is the largest metropolitan area)
Other Important Cities: Memphis (largest), Knoxville (3rd largest), Chattanooga (4th largest)
Region: South, Middle South or Mid-South; East Central South (US Census)
RAFT NationsCornbread & BBQChestnut
Bordered by: North Carolina (east), Mississippi, Alabama & Georgia (south), Arkansas, Missouri & the Mississippi River (west), Kentucky (north), Virginia (northeast)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: bobwhite quail (game bird); channel catfish (commercial fish); Eastern box turtle (reptile); honeybee (agricultural insect, for the honey); raccoon (wild animal); smallmouth bass or bronzeback (sport fish); tomato (fruit - no, not vegetable)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Southern foods, including fried chicken, cornbread and so on; Memphis style barbecue (both dry and wet); hot chicken (particular to Nashville); smoked hams; ham and red-eye gravy; Appalachian foods (Brunswick stew, stack cake, etc); anything eaten by Elvis (sure, not many Tennesseeans eat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but "the King" would want me to mention it, no?)

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Heritage (2003) featured Appalachia as one of its featured cultures in its 2003 Folklife Festival.  The list of dishes from the region is lengthy, and some I didn't even realize were from Appalachia:
Stack cakes, shuck beans, chicken 'n' dumplings, soup beans, and fried apple pies-- important regional foods of Appalachia. Add biscuits and gravy, fried apples, chow chow, and gritted corn bread, and this food reveals roots in the cultures of Europe, Asia, [Native] America, and Africa...
...The Foxfire Book, published in 1972, was among the first to give wide national attention to Appalachian food including dried green beans or "leather britches," dried pumpkin, sauerkraut, pickled beets, souse or hog's head cheese, stew, watermelon pickles, and methods of preserving such as burying, bleaching, drying, distilling, and churning. In the mountains, communities began organizing street festivals to celebrate regional foods and established days or whole weeks to honor sorghum, apples, honey, ramps (a kind of wild garlic), maple syrup, dandelions, bean soup, fried chicken, bourbon, buckwheat, and even squirrels. [Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Heritage 2003]
Notice the very first thing they mention is "stack cake".  There are many recipes for this in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and so on. It typically features dried fruit or applesauce, and is almost as tedious to bake as Maryland's own Smith Island Cake.  What makes it "almost" as tedious is that you don't ice it; instead you only put rehydrated dried fruit in between the layers.

The version I made is a family recipe I found online from the Tennesse GenWeb ( genealogy website, from its section titled "The Table of Our Ancestors, Old Time Southern Recipes".  The source for this Old Time Southern Recipe comes at the bottom:
Note: This is a very old recipe from the family of Hilda Marsh of Knoxville, Tennessee. Stack cakes were indigenous to the East Tennessee and Appalachian mountains. Apples were plentiful and, at least one [sic - at least one apple tree?], could be found on the farms and homesteads in the mountains. [TNGenWeb, date unknown]
I interpret this age old Marsh family recipe below for our final journey into Tennessee food.

The Recipe: Stack Cake

For this cake assemble the following:

 * flour (wow, I actually left out the flour from this photo. Duh.  You will need a lot of it - this recipe calls for six cups.  I used White Lily soft flour.
* shortening (here, Crisco.  I had this)
* dark brown sugar (I did not have this on hand; a box ran around $1.50)
* baking soda and baking powder (had both)
* molasses (had it but am now out; note to self: buy more molasses)
* egg (only one)
* buttermilk (about $2 for a pint from Harris Teeter)
* nutmeg and cinnamon (had both)
* vanilla (again, had to replenish it; bought a small bottle of the pure stuff.  Don't get the budget stuff that's watered down with corn syrup or water, and definitely avoid the "imitation" crap)
* salt (had it)
* dried apple slices (if you don't have this or it's too pricey - which it often is - many recipes suggest applesauce as an acceptable subsitute.  I bought about two 4.5 oz containers at Whole Foods, which surprisingly enough had them cheaper than anywhere else I could find them at $4 a container)

Before anything else, reconstitute the dried apples.  Water is good enough.  Soak for about an hour.

Cream the shortening and brown sugar together.  This killed the third-hand stand mixer I bought for $30.  I had to resort to my hand beater, which fared better.

Add your egg and vanilla and continue to beat.

Next add the molasses.

Here's where the ancient stand mixer started to go downhill: when I added the flour.  The recipe says to alternate between the remaining dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg - not the cinnamon, though honestly it won't hurt anything if you do add it - and salt) and the buttermilk.

Blend until thick.

Your dough will look something like this.  Divide it into six equal balls and roll each ball out onto a floured surface, thin enough to fit into an 8" cake pan.

Press each flattened ball into a cake pan.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 15 minutes.

Turn out onto parchment paper if you have no other surface to lay them on, until you have baked all six of these.

Back to the apples.  Once soft enough, mix the apples with brown sugar and the cinnamon.

Now assemble the cake: put one layer on a plate, and spread a fifth of the apples on top.

Stack another layer on top of the apples and continue spreading apples and stacking layers until you use up all the apples.

Let the whole thing sit for a few hours or (better yet) overnight.

Cut and serve.

This cake falls apart easily if you aren't careful, but it is a filling and hearty, dark and rich, slightly dry cake.  This is a nice contrast with the moist apple mixture.  Eat a thin slice because it will fill you up fast.  It is delicious and worth the trouble you will go through to make it.  Not to mention the stand mixers that you go through.

- - - - -

We're heading west - southwest to be specific.  South by southwest to be pedantic.  Our next stop on this culinary tour is the biggest state in the South and the Southwest, a place known for big flavors and big steers.  A state that is pretty diverse in and of itself.  We're visiting the Lone Star State soon, with barbecue, chili, Tex-Mex and more.


Bedell, Malcolm.  "Nashville Hot Chicken". Far Away: Cooking and Eating in Maine, posted April 3, 2012.  Copyright 2010-2012,  All rights reserved.

Jones, Justin.  Personal correspondence to Nashville Scene website.  Published in "Bites Exclusive: Winning Hot Chicken Recipe!" by Jim Ridley, Nashville Scene, posted July 31, 2008. Copyright 1995-2012, City Press LLC.  All rights reserved.

Neely, Gina, and Patrick Neely, with Paula Disbrowe.  Down Home with the Neelys: A Southern Family Cookbook.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, NY, 2009.

Raichlen, Steve.  "Memphis Dry Rub Ribs".  Food & Wine Magazine website, 2012.  Copyright 1997 - 2012, American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Ridley, Jim.  "Bites Exclusive: Winning Hot Chicken Recipe!Nashville Scene, posted July 31, 2008. Copyright 1995-2012 City Press LLC.  All rights reserved.

Severson, Kim.  "Nashville’s Rising Stars: The Kitchen Is Their StudioNew York Times, published June 18, 2012.

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.  "Appalachian Foods".  From "Appalachia: Heritage and Harmony" Resources Page for the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, 2003.  Copyright 2003 by the Smithsonian Instution.

Tennessee Gen Web ( "Stack Cake".  From "The Table of Our Ancestors, Old Time Southern Recipes".  Family recipe from the family of Hilda Marsh, Knoxville, TN.  Date unknown.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Tennessee" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Tennessee".