Juicier than a cobbler. Not as fussy as a pie.
In a foodiverse obsessed with pies, galettes, cobblers, and crisps, we’ve been neglecting an unsung, regional favorite: the sonker. If you haven’t heard of it before, we wouldn’t blame you. This hyperlocal treat originates from and can mostly be found only in Surry County, North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Mountains—and there’s a lot of local pride surrounding the dessert. There’s even an annual Sonker Festival held every October, and a Surry Sonker Trail that will let you tour six restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and a brewery that serve up traditional sonkers if you’re really looking to dive headfirst into this Appalachian tradition.
So, what exactly is a sonker? The key info is that it’s a baked dessert in the same family as a cobbler, slump, or grunt. However, when it comes to the specifics, it turns out that (like most traditional recipes that are passed down generation to generation) there’s a lot of disagreement on the specifics—and we mean a lot. Some argue this baked dessert is a way to use overripe berries and fruit. Others say it’s made with sweet potato, and sweet potato alone. There are feuds on whether it should have a breadcrumb, biscuit, batter, or a pie dough topping, or if it needs to be double-crusted.
There are some distinctive commonalities that people seem to be able to agree on though. Sonkers are a little “soupier,” and juicier than your average cobbler—even the sweet potato sonker usually has some buttermilk or cream component added, to make a thick, syrupy base. Another sonker trademark: They are typically accompanied by a luscious vanilla sauce called “dip” made from milk and sugar, that’s poured generously over the dessert as a glaze. And most can agree that it’s a great dessert to make and share with a crowd. They’re usually cooked in and served straight from a large baking pan, from oven to table.
The good news is sonkers are just as effortless, customizable, and delicious as they sound, meaning you can easily give this dessert a try at home as a laid-back alternative to fussy lattice-topped pies and tarts this season. Our favorite: This Triple Berry Sonker with Dip is pretty much bursting with bright, tart berry juices, topped off with a flaky, buttery crust, and is dressed with that sweet, creamy vanilla dip that’s so distinctive of a traditional sonker. If you’re a fruit sonker naysayer, give this sweet potato version a try. Who knows? It may even replace your usual sweet potato pie at the holiday dinner table.