Thursday, March 7, 2024

Appalachian Recipes from Bygone Days

By Michelle Shocklee

While I did the research for my historical split-time novel APPALACHIAN SONG, I came across many yummy-sounding recipes that cooks in Appalachia served to their families for generations. Because mountain families typically raised their own livestock and grew their own vegetables and fruits, meals consisted of what was on hand, since running to the grocery store or dining out at a restaurant was not an option for most residents of the hills and hollers of East Tennessee. 

Four of the Walker Sisters of Tennessee at their home near Gatlinburg. Public domain.

After the book released last October, I received a number of requests for the recipes I used in the story. Things like Stack Cake and Collard Greens with Dumplings. So I thought I'd do something a little different today and share a couple of those recipes with you!

But first...a little history.

You may remember (or not!) that I blogged about the Mysterious Walker Sisters of Gatlinburg, TN back in 2019. My husband and I moved to the Nashville area in 2017, and I was a sponge soaking up all the cool history of our new home state. When I first saw the Walker Sisters cabin, I knew I would set a book there -- now known as APPALACHIAN SONG. The Walkers lived in a 2-room cabin with a sleeping loft built by their father after the Civil War. Eleven children were born into the family, and six of the daughters never married. They became known as the Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier. We know about them because of their resistance to sell their property when the government decided to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Thankfully, the women were allowed to stay in their home for the rest of their lives despite it being owned by the park.

I took this picture of the Walker Sisters cabin
on my first visit in 2017

Like most families in this part of Appalachia, the Walkers grew their own produce. A huge garden was located near the old cabin, full of squash plants, various greens, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, and more. It provided fresh vegetables in the summer as well as vegetables for canning to use in the winter. There was also a large orchard where John Walker grew a variety of apples, cherries, and nuts. Even after their papa passed away, the sisters maintained the orchard and enjoyed homemade jams, canned and dried fruits, as well as maple syrup.

It was John's apples that inspired me to include one of the Walker family's favorite recipes in the book: Apple Stack Cake. Here is the recipe a long-time friend of the Walkers provided:


In 3+ c. of water, cook approx. 10 c. of dried apples until tender. Drain the applesauce. Add 1/3 c. sugar for each cup of apples used. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla to taste. Set aside. 

4 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
Mix well then add:
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 1/2 tsp. cream
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Combine all ingredients. Bake in thin layers, maybe 4 to 6 depending on the size of the pan or height of the cake. 

She doesn't give a temperature or time for baking, but similar recipes online call for 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. She also doesn't give instructions for assembling, but it is a simple layering process. Cake, applesauce, cake, applesauce, etc. until you have a nice stack. In my book, Sister Jennie decorates the top with dried apple slices. ENJOY!

The other recipe that Appalachian folks can't get enough of is Collard Greens with Dumplings. Now, I have to admit I hadn't eaten collard greens until I moved to Tennessee. But I've become a believer in their deliciousness. Adding a dumpling on top is like adding icing to a cake. The easiest way to make this old-fashioned recipe is:

Wash and cut desired amount of collard greens (you can use turnip greens too). Put in a pot large enough to easily hold them. Add enough chicken broth and/or water to cover. Season to taste using salt, pepper, minced garlic, minced onion, paprika. Simmer 15+ minutes or until desired tenderness. (My Kentucky-born boss cooks hers for over an hour.)

While the greens are cooking, make the dumplings:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon salted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup low-fat milk
Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 5 minutes. Place spoonful's on top of greens (add more broth if necessary). Cover and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes or until dumplings are done. ENJOY!

I hope you try these authentic recipes from Appalachia. Be sure to let me know if you do! And aren't you glad you don't have to cook them over a fire like the Walker family did? 

Fireplace in the Walker Sisters cabin

Your turn: Do you have a favorite recipe that's been passed down through the generations in your family? Tell us about it!

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at

                             APPALACHIAN SONG

Forever within the memories of my heart.
Always remember, you are perfectly loved.

Bertie Jenkins has spent forty years serving as a midwife for her community in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Out of all the mothers she’s tended, none affects her more than the young teenager who shows up on her doorstep, injured, afraid, and expecting, one warm June day in 1943. As Bertie and her four sisters tenderly nurture Songbird back to health, the bond between the childless midwife and the motherless teen grows strong. But soon Songbird is forced to make a heartbreaking decision that will tear this little family apart.

Thirty years later, the day after his father’s funeral, Walker Wylie is stunned to learn he was adopted as an infant. The famous country singer enlists the help of adoption advocate Reese Chandler in the hopes of learning why he was abandoned by his birth parents. With the only clue he has in hand, Walker and Reese head deep into the Appalachian Mountains to track down Bertie Jenkins, the midwife who holds the secrets to Walker’s past.


  1. Thank you for posting today. Those recipes sound good. At first I thought the stack cake was made with a pancake-type layer. I'm even more impressed to read they were baked! My mom was known for an orange raisin cake that she used to make for Christmas and Easter, but I don't know where the recipe came from.

    1. Connie, orange raisin cake sound delicious! I've never had it.

  2. I lived in east TN for 19 months. I am now totally craving a piece of apple stack cake!!! (and it was 30 years ago that I lived there!)

    1. Lisa, I know exactly how you feel! I'm going to have to make apple stack cake soon! =D

  3. I am so interested in these books I've not heard of glad I came across your post on Goodreads

    1. Hello and thank you for your comment! I'm glad you came across my path too! I hope you enjoy the book if you decide to read it!

  4. How fun! I loved the book, and I will definitely try the apple stack cake. I already know I like greensj!

    1. Thank you, Susan! I hope your cake turns out yummy!