I really hadn’t thought much about Sonker since my teenage years but an early morning walk few weeks ago brought the word back into my vocabulary once again.
Our walking group had converged on the North Wilkesboro Greenway trail and we had begun talking about miscellaneous things, ie… who was doing what over the next few days… Summer fruits seemed to be on the agenda for discussion and the term Sonker came up… chiefly the origin of the term. One of my friends never had heard of the term and begun to ask questions about it and how it was similar or different from a fruit Cobbler.
My input into the conversation…Sonker was a common summer dessert in my home growing up and I also remembered my Granny used the term often. Cobbler wasn’t the commonly used term to describe the fruit-filled pan of goodness at our house nor in my extended family households.
As we continued our walk and daily topics of discussion changed, I made a mental note to ask my mom about the Sonker recipe later and if she knew anything about the origin of the name.
A week or so elapsed in time before I recalled the Sonker conversation on the Greenway when I was talking on the phone with my mom one afternoon. She immediately answered my questions. She recalled an article that she had read in Our State Magazine about Sonker. She relayed key details from the article, and encouraged me to go read more about it. Mom discussed the differences between her version of Sonker and Granny’s. Granny usually had leftover fresh biscuit dough which she topped with fruit. Mom’s recipe, y’all will be able to find at the end of the blog post today.
FYI, Mom is fantastic with last minute supper guests…she can whip up an easy dessert effortlessly. My sister & I often challenged her to this task, with extra guests at the table. Sonker was one of those perfect, easy desserts… baking and bubbling in the oven while supper was being served. The aroma filled the kitchen with goodness waiting patiently for the final feature, dessert fruit-filled Sonker.
For those of y’all who are still wondering what on earth is Sonker??? Sonker is a deep-dish fruit “pie”, usually served in a square/rectangular baking pan. Sonker is supposed to be “juicier” than a typical cobbler. Sonker can be a dessert large enough to feed a family or accommodate guests in your home. Sonker is NOT a “fussy” dessert. The ease of recipe is part of the charm of Sonker. On the other hand, cobblers, tend to have more of a thick biscuit texture to the breading and the texture on top appears to be “cobbled”. The dough is dropped or spooned onto the top of the fruit typically in a cobbler. The end result of a well baked Sonker, in my opinion, showcases your fruit, cobblers often showcase the beautiful breading.
Upon my Mom’s urging to further read & research, I also learned that Surry County hosts a Sonker Trail and a festival each October. Surry County even has a classic Sweet Potato Sonker with a creamy/milky type “dip” which is a finishing feature of the Sweet Potato Sonker.
Y’all still might be thinking …really, IS a Cobbler the same thing as Sonker??? In my opinion, these two are very “close first cousins.” Honestly, I simply prefer to use Sonker to describe my fruit-filled deep dish pies.
According to the research articles I have read, the term “Sonker”, was derived from a Scottish word meaning straw saddle. The Sonker experts tell us that they suspect that cooks used the analogy of the crust likeness of the fruit-filled pie to compare it to the Scottish word.
Also, the Sonker experts believe that the term Sonker originated in Surry and Wilkes Counties. I suspect that if you aren’t a “native” to these two geographic areas NOR your parents, you may not know the term Sonker.
My husband had no clue what Sonker was all about, even though he has lived in Wilkes his entire life BUT his parents were not “natives” of Wilkes. Cobbler is the term he definitely prefers to use for the fruit-filled dessert.
My sister, on the other hand, a Wilkes County native, who now lives out of state, is teaching her young daughter to make Sonker… thereby keeping the legacy of our mom’s recipe going strong.
I would suspect the term Sonker is locale specific. My grandparents lived in both Surry & Wilkes Counties during their lifetime. So I believe they were well connected to the locale and it was reflective within their vocabulary and local food choices. Sonker was definitely a sweet part of summer during my younger years. I hope to continue my Sonker Summers by experimenting with my mom’s classic recipe and just simply enjoying the “fruits of my labor”.
Your personal preference of the term Sonker or Cobbler could be ingrained into your vocabulary mindset. But cobbler makers & lovers, I hope that you will add Sonker into your vocabulary AND into your food palate. Let’s keep our local food history alive and growing! Go experience Sonker this Summer.
Mom’s basic recipe for Sonker :
Ingredients & Utensils
-Square baking pan (this recipe is easily doubled or even cut in half in order to accommodate the number of people you wish to feed, for my 8-9 inch square baker I use 3/4 cup instead of full recipe)
-1 stick melted butter
-1 cup self rising flour
-1 cup milk – (I added a dash of vanilla to mine but it is not necessary)
-1 cup sugar
-Fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned… use what you have on hand)
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Melt butter in baking pan.
3. Mix together milk, sugar, flour and dash of vanilla (if desired) into bowl as butter melts.
4. Once butter is melted, pour milk /flour/sugar mixture over the butter into pan. Do not stir!
5. Add fruit on top of milk/flour/sugar mixture. The breading will disperse throughout the Sonker as it bakes. Sprinkle extra sugar on top of fruit for extra sweetness if desired.
6. Bake until crust is golden brown.
7. Note: You may want to let your Sonker cool down for 10 minutes before eating. No one wants to get burned eating a hot Sonker.
8. Sonker is goes well with vanilla ice cream, enjoy y’all.