Dolly Parton is good at everything. She has a music empire, a theme-park empire, a TV and film empire, and quite possibly the most goodwill of any living human on the planet.
On top of all that, she’s a really good cook. Dolly has often discussed how much she loves food. “My weaknesses are food and men,” she has said, “in that order.”
Her delightful cookbook Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s came out in 2006, but the holy grail of Dolly Parton culinary memorabilia is 1989’s Dollywood Presents Tennessee Mountain Home Cooking. It’s out of print, but thanks to a grandmother who 1) took me to Dollywood and 2) never threw anything away, I have a copy that she purchased in 1990 on a trip to the theme park.
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The book is filled with recipes gathered from Dollywood employees. “Good food, friends, and family are three things that folks here in these mountains have in abundance,” Dolly writes in the preface. “We have selected the favorite recipes of members of our Dollywood family that we wanted to share with you, our friends. We hope that as you serve these recipes to your family, they remind you of us and your visit to our area.”
One of those members of the Dollywood family is the theme park’s official “Dreamer-in-Chief,” Dolly Parton herself. She contributed several recipes to the book, including her signature coleslaw, which includes pickles and pickle brine, and her recipe for cowboy beans.
But the recipe I love the most—and the one you’re going to want to make over the holidays—is Dolly Parton’s Apple Stack Pie, her version of a classic Appalachian stack cake.
“There’s no recipe more rooted in Appalachian culture: stack cake is an ingenious expression of traditional mountain foodways,” writes Appalachian food expert Sheri Castle. “The first cook to make one almost certainly baked her cake layers one at a time, patting the dough into her skillet, baking them over a campfire or on the hearth, turning them out onto a plate, stacking and filling as she went.”
The dessert uses a simple, slightly sweet dough made with molasses and spices. You divide the dough into six equal portions and bake them into thin discs, then stack each one on top of another with an apple compote in the middle. The cakes are a little bit closer to quick bread or scones than to moist cake, and they aren’t too sweet. It’s a great breakfast for a special occasion—say, the morning of Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Dolly notes in her recipe that the cake is best after it sits for a few days, ostensibly so that the moisture from the apples softens the cake, and the fruit flavor permeates throughout. I do, though, think Dolly made one mistake. When I recently made the cake, I tripled the quantity of apples from one pound to three pounds, but I think the cake would have been even better with double what I made. (If you’re doing the math, multiply the whole filling by six and you should have a generous amount to layer with the cakes.)
Apples are an important part of Appalachian cooking, and the sweets made from them are an important part of Dollywood. In fact, the Tennessee theme park—widely known for its surprisingly excellent food—serves an enormous apple pie that you can’t get anywhere else.
It weighs 25 pounds.
Made with 35 apples and priced at $189.99, the pie is bigger than you could possibly imagine. If you buy the whole thing, you get the cast-iron skillet that the pie was baked in, which explains a lot of the cost. But you can also grab an $18.99 slice, which still weighs three pounds, and is worth every penny.
When I bought a slice on my last trip to Dollywood, it took me days to eat, and I still couldn’t finish it before it was time to check out of my hotel. But if you’re having a big holiday celebration, you can order one by calling Dollywood and they’ll ship it to your house. If you’d rather make a taste of the Smoky Mountains at home, here’s the recipe for Dolly Parton’s Apple Stack Pie from the 1989 cookbook, reprinted with permission from Dollywood.
PS The Dollywood cookbook is out of print, but if you look hard enough, you can find used copies. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can read it in its entirety here.
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