Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2017 - 65
This bowl of mixed berry sonker is from Rockford General Store in the village of Rockford, North Carolina.
The cobbler-like dessert, unique to one mountain county, saves on both time
and ingredients in delivering distinct flavors with ties to both the British
Isles and Africa.
by Fred & Jill Sauceman * Photos courtesy Tourism Partnership of Surry County
Sonker. As I type the word, my computer inserts a bold red underline,
that glaring signal of unfamiliarity.
Even some of the most highly regarded books on foods of the American South ignore sonker completely. A mention of the word just 100
miles beyond Surry County, North
Carolina, typically elicits blank
stares and furrowed brows.
The venerable "Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets" does acknowledge sonker's existence, with
a six-line entry. Cobbler gets three
times that much space.
Obscurity, in this case, may be
a virtue. Every Cracker Barrel in
America serves fruit cobbler. None
of them serves sonker and likely
never will. Sonker's identity is local.
The cobbler-like dessert was born
out of necessity and poverty.
As Sandra Johnson at Mount
Airy, North Carolina's Down Home
Restaurant puts it, "Sonker is a hardtimes dish. It contains no eggs,
which were scarce. All it takes is
fruit, a little bit of sugar, and biscuit
dough." Johnson says three-quarters of a cup of sugar will sweeten a
Sonker was not only a way to get
as much goodness as possible out
of limited ingredients, it was also a
way to conserve time.
"As times modernized and women went to work in the factories and
mills, meal preparation at night had
to be quicker," Johnson says. She
knows that firsthand. Her father, Jonah Boyd, worked in a furniture factory while her mother, Agnes, made
sweaters for Pine State Knitwear.
"My mama would keep sonker
on the stove, and as the fruit boiled,
she'd drop little dumplings in it,
and on top she'd put a smooth layer
of her dough bread. Then she'd put
September/October 2017 65