West Virginia Birthday Cake Contest

In honor of West Virginia's 159th birthday in 2022, First Lady Cathy Justice hosted a West Virginia Birthday Cake Contest.

Kim Wymer of Scott Depot was named the grand prize winner and her recipe – “Ms. Van’s Blackberry Skillet Cake” – is now the official birthday cake of West Virginia. It will be served annually on June 20 to commemorate the anniversary of West Virginia’s statehood.
Grand Prize Winning Recipe
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The Blackberry Skillet Cake was selected as the best of the best among seven outstanding cake recipes that were selected as finalists in the contest. All finalist cake recipes were taste-tested by the First Lady, Gov. Jim Justice, Executive Assistant to the First Lady Vicki Shannon, Special Assistant to the First Lady Katie Morris, and other staff members.

All finalist cake recipes below:


Ms. Van’s Blackberry Skillet Cake
Kim Wymer | Scott Depot, WV

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, separated
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 12 oz. fresh blackberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsps. vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Toss blackberries with 1 Tbsp. granulated white sugar.
  3. Put 1/2 stick butter in a 10” cast iron skillet and place in the oven until melted. Remove from the oven, add 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup walnuts, stir and then add and arrange blackberries in a cast iron skillet.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 2 1/2 tsps baking powder, 1/2 tsp ground clove, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp. cinnamon, then set aside.In a separate bowl, mix 1 stick butter with 1 ½ cups sugar, then whisk 2 eggs, 2 tsps vanilla and 1 cup buttermilk together. Add this to butter and sugar and mix until combined.
  5. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and mix until smooth for about 2 minutes.
  6. Pour into a cast iron skillet on top of the berry mixture.
  7. Bake approx. 40 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool in a cast iron skillet for 10 minutes before inverting cake onto a serving plate.
  9. While the cake is cooling, mix up nutmeg glaze.

Ingredients for Nutmeg Glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 6 tsps. warm water

Method for Nutmeg Glaze:
  1. Combine all 3 ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  2. Once cake is cooled and inverted onto serving plate, drizzle glaze over top of warm cake…enjoy!

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
I don’t, but you could add a few fresh berries on top or to the side of the cake, if you like, or serve with a dollop of fresh whipping cream or ice cream.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
When I was growing up in West Virginia, my mother made Pineapple upside down cake frequently and I did my share of devouring them. She always used a cast iron skillet. My grandmothers cooked using their iron skillets as well. My husband’s aunt always made a blackberry cake that his family loved when he was a kid. So I decided to come up with a blackberry version of a skillet cake, and it ended up being a hit. We used to pick berries along the road if we were lucky enough to get to them first.

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
Blackberries and walnuts can be found in the hills of West Virginia. This is a simple cake yet worthy of any celebration!


Almost Heaven Golden Delicious Apple Cake With Black Walnut Molasses Icing
Rania Mitter Zuri | Morgantown, WV

  • 3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of Golden Delicious Apple Butter ( you can whip up your own but it’s delicious at Legacy Foods in Clay County, WV)
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of melted butter (about 2 sticks)
  • ¼ cup of West Virginia maple syrup (I recommend pure West Virginian Maple Syrup from Cedar Run Farm in Tyler County, WV)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup of brown sugar
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Butter 2 cake pans
  3. In a separate big bowl, whisk the milk, West Virginia maple syrup, Golden Delicious apple butter, melted butter, brown sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon
  4. Then slowly add each egg and beat
  5. Slowly add the flour and whisk as you are adding it
  6. When it is fully mixed together, pour the batter into the 2 cake pans
  7. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. To test, put a toothpick inside and bake until the toothpick has no cake on it when inserted.
  8. Remove the cake from the pans to cool.
  9. Since there are 2 cakes from the 2 pans, remove both and layer them on top of one another, putting a layer of golden delicious apple butter in between the two layers

To make the West Virginia Golden Delicious apple butter:
  1. Take about 8 or 9 Golden Delicious Apples from West Virginia and peel and remove the core from them
  2. Put the Golden Delicious apples with 1 cup of apple cider, ¾ cup of brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon in a pot
  3. Place the pot over the stove and cook it on medium heat (do not cover the pot)
  4. After about an hour, the apples get soft so you take them out and blend them (either with a hand blender or in a real blender)
  5. When the apples are a smooth puree, put it back into the pot
  6. Continue cooking the mixture on low heat for another hour, stirring every 20 minutes
  7. After it is done, it should be a dark brown that can be put in a jar to be used in the cake!

Ingredients for Buttercream Black Walnut Molasses icing:
  • 1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2/3 cup of West Virginia molasses
  • 1 stick of butter (slightly soft)
  • About 10-15 Black Walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon of milk

Method for Buttercream Black Walnut Molasses icing:
  1. Beat the butter for about 3 minutes
  2. Slowly sift the powdered sugar and beat it into the butter
  3. Add in the milk and beat afterwards
  4. Add in the West Virginia molasses and beat
  5. Chop up the black walnuts finely and mix it into the butter cream
  6. Take a spatula and use the buttercream black walnut molasses icing to ice the cake

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
This should be topped with a drizzle of West Virginia maple syrup and chopped West Virginia black walnuts.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
My Mee-Maw has been making this cake for over 50 years on the birthday of West Virginia. It is a special recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation since we settled here a long, long time ago. My Mee-Maw was inspired by our Appalachian culture and all of the wonderful things that grow here in West Virginia. This cake is special since it celebrates the wonderful heritage of West Virginia and combines ingredients and foods that come from all over the state! These ingredients also have so much history, some being used since the 1800s. Once you taste a bite of it, you will get why my Mee-Maw says it is Almost Heaven, just like West Virginia.

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
This cake is the best cake to honor West Virginia’s birthday because it incorporates so many traditions and foods that encompass our wonderful state. The ingredients are carefully selected to represent the history of West Virginia, which is perfect to celebrate the state's birthday!

First, golden delicious apples are not only delicious (as the name implies), but are the West Virginia state fruit. We are the native home of the Golden Delicious apple and have been growing here since the 1800s- making it a huge part of our history. In my cake, I used these West Virginian apples to make apple butter, another tradition that even has its own festival in Berkeley Springs, WV!

I also used Black walnuts which not only give the cake a nutty texture, but also have deep ties to the state. Being used since the first settlers in WV, there is also a festival in Spencer, WV to honor these nuts. They were a staple in the early diets of West Virginia and it should be honored in the state cake, in my opinion! My personal West Virginian family has been harvesting black walnuts for decades and I know many West Virginians do the same.

Molasses is also a part of West Virginia history. It has its own festival in Calhoun County, WV and has been used as a sweetener since the late 1800s. My family ( mountain farmers) always tell tales about the molasses and it is a big part of West Virginia sweet treats.

Lastly, maple syrup also has so much history in this state. The maple syrup making tradition dates back to Native Americans and the early West Virginia settlers. They used it as a form of sweetener. I do the same in this cake! It is not only delicious but I use maple syrup that comes purely from West Virginia. So it has a piece of our rich history, and complements the flavors of the cake. Sugar Maple is also the state tree of West Virginia!

This cake is perfect to celebrate the birthday of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. It has history in the ingredients and flavors that have been enjoyed by the West Virginian people for a long time. It has ingredients from all of West Virginia too, so everyone can enjoy it! You got a bit of everything from everywhere in the state so it is something that unites us all. It also tastes like it is almost heaven, just like West Virginia.


An Apple-achian Birthday Cake
Hayley Craig | Franklin, WV

  • 3 Golden Delicious Apples
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Butter
  • 1/2 Cup of Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup of Honey
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 2 Cups of Flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups of Milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two cake pans. Set aside.
  2. Peel and dice 3 Golden Delicious Apples into small pieces.
  3. Add 1/2 Tbsp. Cinnamon, 1/4 c. Brown Sugar, and diced apples to a medium size bowl and stir thoroughly.
  4. Slightly mash apples and set aside.
  5. Cream 1/2 c. butter, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1/4 c. honey in a large bowl.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 Tbsp. baking powder, and 2 c. flour.
  7. Alternate mixing dry ingredients and milk into wet ingredients.
  8. Stir apple mixture into cake batter with a wooden spoon.
  9. Separate batter into the cake pans.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes. (It is ready when a toothpick entered into the center comes out clean.)
  11. Pull cakes out of the pan to cool for icing later.

Ingredients for cake icing or glaze:
  • 1 Cup Softened Butter
  • 5 Cups of Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Milk
  • 4 Tablespoons of Maple Syrup

Method for cake icing or glaze:
  1. Cream 1 c. butter into a large bowl
  2. Alternate mixing in 5 c. powdered sugar and 1/2 c. milk.
  3. Add 4 Tbsp. of maple syrup and whip icing thoroughly.
  4. If necessary, add extra powdered sugar to thicken icing up or milk if the icing is too stiff.
  5. Place in the refrigerator until the cake is cool enough to icing.

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
I suggest varying the cake to reflect the changing seasons. One thing I love about West Virginia is that people truly have a connection to the land. Many people grow and raise their own food. One could easily substitute peaches for the apples. Strawberries, wild raspberries, or blackberries could also be substituted (cinnamon would not be added to the berries).

For decorations, I slice, instead of dice, apples and use the same mixture in the cake. I then place the cinnamon-brown sugar apple slices around the cake.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
This cake recipe does have a special story to me. When I first saw the contest, I was ecstatic. As a native of West Virginia, I have always appreciated the geography of our Wild and Wonderful state. The mountains have always provided a sense of security for me. Because of that, this is a recipe that I have created inspired by the land of West Virginia. The Honey, made by our state's insect, is made in my parents' backyard with their one little hive. The maple syrup, to represent our state tree, was tapped by my family and boiled down on our kitchen stove. The golden delicious apples, our state fruit, were used because it represents the amazing things that come from West Virginia. My family does not own a large farm or a business. We tap a couple maple trees, have a couple hives, pick fruit from the four or five trees on our property. We live off the land and this recipe represents the goodness that West Virginia brings to us.

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
I think this cake is the best cake to honor West Virginia because I have spent a lot of time creating this recipe to reflect what West Virginia means to someone who loves this state so dearly. I grew up in rural West Virginia on top of the Appalachian Mountains. This state molded and shaped who I was. After getting married, due to some career circumstances for my husband, we moved to MD. We started careers and built a new house. But, all of that was not enough. We knew we had to get connected back to our homegrown roots. We sold our house, took pay cuts, and sacrificed a lot according to most people. Our friends and neighbors thought we were crazy. But being home, in our holler, listening to the creek and the wind brush the leaves, that is worth far more than anything to us. I have my dream job of teaching 8th grade Social Studies, WV History. Everyday, I get to build pride and share the beauty of the state with young minds. Heck, I even made our honeymoon a road trip to visit 26 of the 35 state parks in a week. I say all of this to show that this cake was made by a native who loves West Virginia and is dedicated to pouring herself out to continue the traditions of the state. This recipe has all the love baked right into it. That is why I think this cake could truly honor West Virginia.


Appalachian Apple Stack Cake
Laura Atha | Weston, WV

  • Cake Layers
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sorghum syrup or molasses
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • Pinch nutmeg (optional)
  • Pinch allspice (optional)

Cream the butter and add the sorghum syrup and brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and buttermilk. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and optional spices and stir well. With your hands or a spatula, add the flour mixture in 2 parts to the butter mixture. Fold until incorporated. The batter will be stiff like cookie dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes until firm. Divide the dough into 6 balls. On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out into about 1/8-inch-thick circles that are about 9 inches in diameter. Use the bottom of a cake pan as a template to cut an even circle. Collect dough scraps and reroll. You will have between 6 and 8 cake layers depending on how thick you roll your dough. Place parchment paper with dough rounds on cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees until cakes are lightly browned. They will still be a little spongy.

After the cake layers have cooled, place one on a plate, spoon some of the warm apple mixture on and spread in a thin layer evenly over the surface. Add another cake and repeat, stacking up the layers. You’ll leave the top bare for now, but reserve 1 cup of the apple mixture for serving. Wrap the cake well and refrigerate for a day or two. The cake will soak up the juices from the apples. Before serving, top cake with remaining apple mixture. Serves 12-15.

Ingredients for Apple Filling:
  • 1 pound dried apples
  • Apple cider to cover
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch salt

Method for Apple Filling:
Place the dried apples in a large pot and pour enough cider to cover. Bring to a simmer and allow the apples to hydrate and cook, adding more cider or water as needed to keep from sticking. After about 30 minutes, stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and continue to cook until the apples break down and thicken somewhere between applesauce and apple butter (there will still be some chunks). Set aside.

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
You may shape dried apples into roses and garnish with the leaves of sage, rosemary, and lemon verbena.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
I did not have a chance to make my own version of this recipe. This version was posted online as an adaptation of a cake created by Zara J. Walker. The garnishes were proposed by Ashley English, Ashley Capps, Susannah Gebhart, and Barbara Swell. The idea of an apple stack cake seemed so West Virginian to me that I had to submit this recipe as a starting place. I hope you can provide an opportunity for a local culinary artist to reimagine the recipe as an original for West Virginia’s perfect birthday cake!

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
West Virginians are all about helping one another, and that’s what a stack cake is all about—love! According to tradition, past families in Appalachia would bake one layer of a stack cake at home in a cast iron skillet. When there was a celebration, the different families’ layers would be assembled on-site with homemade apple butter between layers to get everything to “stack.” The apple stack cake represents West Virginia, because West Virginians are like one big family. We help one another in any way we can. An apple stack cake is a delicious, fun way to celebrate our heritage and culinary roots. The cake is prepared with fresh ingredients found in Appalachia, including our very own golden delicious apple. It makes the perfect birthday cake for our wild, beautiful state!


From the Pantry
Olivia Tharp | Charleston, WV

Ingredients for the batter:
  • 2 1/2 cups of short patent flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil (or unsalted butter)
  • 4 eggs at room temp
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 3/4 cup of sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 8” cake pans

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together thoroughly until texture is consistent. Next, whisk eggs together briefly in a separate bowl and pour into dry ingredients, adding the remaining wet ingredients afterward. Whisk ingredients together until combined, being careful not to over mix. Pour batter in greased pans and bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Once the cake is finished, wrap in plastic wrap and pop into the freezer for at least two hours to contain moisture. After two hours, the cake will be cooled and moist and ready to decorate!

Ingredients for Whipped buttercream icing (secret recipe):
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup of whipping cream

Method for Whipped buttercream icing (secret recipe):
Beat butter together with an electric mixer until white and fluffy (about 6 minutes). Then, sift two cups of powdered sugar in and mix until combined. Next, add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar and mix until combined (will be thick). Finally, add whipping cream and vanilla extract and mix together until fluffy and creamy.

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
Anything that would give this cake the appeal that deserves. Follow your instinct.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
This cake recipe originated from a basic cookbook but has turned into a secret recipe as it has been adapted to fit all ingredients and allergy friendly requirements. It is from the heart!

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
This recipe may specify measurements and specific details, but what makes it unique is that it can be done easily and loosely and still turn out delicious. West Virginia is about feeling “at home” and nothing is more “at home” than a recipe from your own pantry that will turn out edible regardless! Over the years of using this recipe, the weight of the flour in your hands becomes the true measuring tactic, and the gut instinct of pouring vanilla out of the bottle becomes routine. As part of Appalachia, it is our responsibility to provide a home for all of those who seek one, and this recipe is something that can be shared in all homes for generations to come. West Virginia is that home for all.


Rhubarb Cake with Strawberry Icing
Theresa L. Cook | Hinton, WV

Ingredients / method for the cake batter:
  • Mix together and set aside 2 cups diced rhubarb with half cup sugar.
  • Next, cream together half cup shortening, 1 and half cups sugar and 1 large egg.
  • ADD sifted dry ingredients, alternately with 1 cup buttermilk, 2 cups Hudson self-rising flour, dash of salt, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
  • ADD 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  • Last, FOLD in rhubarb mixture. Mix well.
  • Use 2 8-inch pans lined with parchment paper.
  • BAKE in a 350 degree pre-heated oven until golden brown for about 45 minutes. While the cake is cooling, make icing.
  • *If Rhubarb is frozen, drain and then add sugar
  • Please list the ingredients and method for cake icing or glaze.*
  • Make strawberry reduction
  • Mash 4oz chopped strawberries add 1 tablespoon water, cook on medium heat stirring constantly until reduced to a smooth paste consistency. Set aside, let cool to room temperature.
  • In a separate bowl, cream 1 cup softened butter, 4 cups powdered sugar,1 teaspoon vanilla.
  • ADD strawberry reduction. Mix well. Add 2 to 4 tablesppon of heavy cream if needed or add more sugar if needed to obtain consistency of icing.

Are there any special toppings or decorations that you would add to your cake?
Pipe around the bottom layer of cake and ice top then add a thin layer of strawberry rhubarb preserves. Put the top cake layer on and finish icing smoothly top and sides. Garish with 4 or 5 strawberry rosettes in the center.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
This was my Mother In law's recipe. She served it with cream cheese icing. My daughters love strawberries, so I altered the recipe by adding the strawberry icing and strawberry rhubarb preserves. Her name was Roxie Oagle Gravley.

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
This would make a good birthday cake for WV; it goes along with the strawberry festivals our state celebrates.


Sonny’s Famous Apple Cake
Hilary May Ramsey | Montrose, WV

Ingredients for cake batter:
  • 4 cups diced raw apples
  • 2 cups sugar (1 cup white and 1 cup brown)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Combine apples and sugar and let stand for one hour. Mix dry ingredients together. Beat eggs, oil and vanilla. Mix half of the dry ingredients and all the apples. Add oil and egg mixture and rest of dry ingredients. Mix well by hand. Pour into a 9X13 pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Ingredients for cake icing or glaze:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Method for cake icing or glaze:
Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour over the cake while hot.

Does your cake recipe have a special story? Is it a family recipe or a unique creation?
This recipe is my late father's creation. A proud West Virginia, he would visit a local orchard in Jefferson County every fall to get "keeper" apples by the bushel to keep in our garage so he always had apples on hand to make his famous apple cake. People would ask for it on their birthdays or special occasions. I was lucky that he passed on the recipe before he passed and showed me how to make his special apple cake.

Why do you think this is the best cake to honor West Virginia?
This recipe honors West Virginia's orchards and its apple heritage. Almost every West Virginia family has an apple cake recipe that has been passed down. This one is special to me because it was my late father's. People loved him and his apple cake. Every time I make it I reflect on this. My love for my home state, my love for history...I attribute it to my Dad. He was so proud to have been born and raised in Charles Town and so proud to to raise his 2 girls in his hometown. I still can't go anywhere in Charles Town without being recognized as "Sonny's youngest."



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