A country-fried conversation with the author of "The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook"

Dolly Parton's beloved amusement park is cherished for a good reason. Erin K. Browne details why

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published April 16, 2023 2:00PM (EDT)

American singer and songwriter Dolly Parton poses for a portrait with her guitar at Dollywood circa 1993 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (Ron Davis/Getty Images)
American singer and songwriter Dolly Parton poses for a portrait with her guitar at Dollywood circa 1993 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (Ron Davis/Getty Images)

It goes without saying that everything about Dolly Parton is iconic.

Also iconic? Dollywood, the beloved amusement park based in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Whether it's the Grist Mill cinnamon bread or the cherished 25-pound apple pie, the park boasts a bevy of gastronomic gems that have titillated (and satiated) many visitors over the years.

Dollywood has cultivated such a hoard of loyal superfans that Erin K. Browne actually opted to write a cookbook to collect all of the recipes and stories that make Dollywood such a special place. 

The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook"The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook" by Erin Browne (Photo by Harper Point Photography)

Salon Food reached out to Browne to chat about all of the good things that Dollywood (and Dolly herself) offer the world, her favorite memories of the park and the food and much more. 

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

What was the inspiration for the book? What is your connection to Dollywood?

Dollywood has been a go-to destination for my family since my kids were babies. I have been a blogger for 12 years and I have shared photos and memories of our Dollywood trips, especially the delicious food we've tried over the years. Eventually, I started to re-create our favorite Dollywood treats at home!

What is your #1 favorite Dollywood food to enjoy there? To make at home?

I can only pick one? Impossible! We always grab a bag of Kettle Korn to munch on throughout the day and we love the BBQ sandwiches from Hickory House. As far as my favorite to make at home, I gotta go with the cinnamon bread. Eaten warm and soft straight from the oven, of course.

Have you gotten any cooking tips from Dolly?

Dolly seems to always have a personal story to share behind so many of the wonderful dishes served on Dollywood properties. She's taught me to slow down and be present during moments in my life and also to realize that creating something special in the kitchen means so much more than just the food itself.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of Dollywood? (The overview in the beginning of the book is amazingly comprehensive!)

The park existed under three different names  Rebel Railroad, Goldrush Junction and Silver Dollar City  before Dolly Parton came on board and opened the park under the Dollywood name in 1986.  Since then, its growth has been explosive and each season brings new attractions, performances and creative menu items. 

And yes, the book contains a whole chapter loaded with fun details about Dollywood's evolution into what it is today! 

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Do you know if there is a best/top selling food item at Dollywood?

By far, Dollywood's top seller is the hot cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill. It's completely irresistible. There's nothing else like it.

Would you classify any of the recipes as a "project," meaning it'll take a bit of a time and/or effort to really turn out well? Or are all the recipes relatively straight-forward?

Most of the recipes are fairly simple and readers with all skill levels in the kitchen should be able to create them. The giant homemade cinnamon rolls are a little time and labor intensive, but they are oh so worth it. I'm going to make them for Christmas morning every year.

Beyond the food, what else about Dollywood is so captivating?

The park is so clean and beautiful. I enjoy walking the paths and taking in the flowers, music and seasonal decor that is ever-changing. Even if there were no rides, I would go there to soak in some sunshine and lounge at the picnic tables next to the bald eagle sanctuary. No two visits are the same and that's what keeps my family coming back several times per year.

Do you have a favorite Dolly song and/or movie?

Steel Magnolias is my all-time favorite Dolly movie. In fact, I named my daughter "Shelby" after the main character in the story! I've known since I was little if I ever had a girl of my own, that's the name I would choose.

Have any of the recipes in the book become a common go-to for you since developing them? 

Yes! The three-bean pumpkin chili has become my favorite chili recipe. The pumpkin purée does something amazing to the texture without imparting too much of an overpowering flavor. It's so good!

Do you have any helpful tips or tricks for beginner cooks looking to capture the magic of Dollywood in their home kitchen? 

Something I have always encouraged my blog readers to do is not be intimidated in the kitchen. Food is fun and preparing it should be an enjoyable  not stressful  experience. I would give the same advice to readers of this book: Just go for it! Pick a recipe, gather the ingredients and have at it. Don't get derailed by little mistakes here and there — they happen to us all. 

Buy "The Unofficial Dollywood Cookbook" here

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By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

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