Dolly Parton's Childhood Recipe Will Warm Your Heart

Stone Soup, available at Dollywood, has an origin story as interesting as Dolly herself.

Anyone who knows anything about Dolly Parton knows at least a part of her origin story. She grew up in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee, one of 12 children in a remote two-room log cabin. Money was extremely scarce, and the family had to rely on ingenuity to get by. In one of her most famous songs, "Coat of Many Colors," she writes about one such instance: Her mother made her a coat out of sewn-together scraps of fabric, telling her the Biblical story of Joseph and his own coat of many colors. "Although we had no money, I was rich as I could be," Dolly sings, "in my coat of many colors my momma made for me." Today, that same optimism persists all over Dollywood, Dolly's Tennessee theme park. It's even in the food.

The centerpiece of the park is the "Tennessee Mountain Home," a replica of that family cabin, decorated with real items from the "homeplace," as they call it. In Aunt Granny's, an eatery in the park named for what Dolly's extended family calls her, one of her qutoes is on the wall: "We didn't have money, but we were rich—there was enough love, kindness, joy and faith around our dinner table to last a lifetime."

Though I can't prove this scientifically, I'm pretty sure that no one in the history of the world has made growing up in abject poverty sound as wonderful as Dolly Parton.

Of all the nostalgic warm fuzzies that define the park, nowhere are they more apparent, or more delicious, than at Song & Hearth, the restaurant inside Dollywood's DreamMore Resort. This airy eatery serves Southern staples like fried chicken, smoked brisket, barbecue ribs, and all the fixings, including one dish straight from Dolly's childhood: Stone Soup.

Dollywood’s Stone Soup, explained

Stone Soup, on the menu every night at Song & Hearth, is a brothy, hearty vegetable soup consisting mainly of potatoes, turnips, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and cabbage, all cooked together with chicken stock and a ham hock. There's one ingredient, though, that you probably shouldn't eat: a real rock, hiding inside the pot.


According to Dolly, that was one of her mother Avie Lee Parton's imaginative tricks. Having the rock inside the soup would sometimes make all the difference to Dolly and her siblings.

"Mama had a way of sensing which one of us kids needed a little extra attention, which one might be a little down," Dolly wrote in her 1994 memoir Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. "She would announce that we were having stone soup for supper and send us all out to pick out a pebble."

All the kids would go outside, looking for just the right one. "We took it seriously, as if the stones actually had some power to make the soup better," she wrote. "I suppose if that many kids believe a rock can make soup taste better, it can."


When the kids came back, Avie Lee would carefully examine each rock, and then, of course, she'd select the one from the sibling who needed the extra love that day. "I can remember the feeling of having my stone picked to go in the soup," Dolly recalled in her memoir. "It's a warm feeling, a sense of being needed, and of knowing, or at least believing, that you have had a hand in feeding your whole family for a day. In that sense, there was magic in those stones and a lot of wisdom in that mother."

Regardless of whether a rock can elevate the dish, the soup really is full of flavor, as the saltiness of the ham balances out the sweetness of the vegetables. I liked it a lot more than I like most other vegetable soups, but then again, I knew the story before I even took a bite. The soup station at the restaurant is underneath a plaque displaying Avie Lee's recipe for a happy life: "Half a cup of love, a teaspoon of caring, and a dash of humility topped with compassion."

This recipe is all over the internet—here's Dolly talking about it on Hallmark Channel's Home & Family—and for a long time, the restaurant handed out recipe cards to diners so everyone could make the meal at home. It's a simple soup; the true skill comes in knowing exactly which stone to use.


Dolly Parton’s Stone Soup Recipe

Courtesy of Dollywood

  • 2 quarts chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • 1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small head cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb. turnips, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 very clean stone (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Combine the stock, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, turnips, carrots, onion, garlic, and ham hock in a large soup pot. Add the stone, if using.

    Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the soup is thick and the vegetables are fork-tender, about 2 hours.


    Remove the ham hock from the soup, remove the meat from the bone, and chop it into ½-inch pieces. Add the meat back to the soup.

    Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve piping hot.