Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2017 - 68
Dobson only used sweet potatoes, butter, vanilla and sugar for her filling.
Dough-to-filling ratios and the placement of the dough itself can vary from
home to home. Many sonker bakers line
the bottoms and sides of their metal pans
with dough. Some add a top crust.
"But I think you can have too much
bread," Marion Venable says. "I put strips
of crust on the bottom and sides, then
add my fruit and sugar, and put strips of
dough across the top, like a lattice-work
She says her definition of a cobbler
is a dessert with more dough. The "Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets"
describes sonker as "a soupy adaptation
of cake-style cobbler particular to western
North Carolina." It is not uncommon for
bakers to mix a kind of batter and pour
that over the filling.
Marion Venable says her favorite recipe in the 1980 booklet came from Bettie Hardy of the Siloam Extension Club,
who was well past the age of 80 when she
shared it: "2 or 3 big handfuls of flour; 2
or 3 pinches of soda, baking powder, and
salt; a generous handful of shortening;
mixed with flour, enough buttermilk to
make a dough that can be rolled out."
When I ask about the origin of the
word sonker, Venable points me to the
writing of the late folklorist and scholar
Dr. Cratis Williams, known to many as
the founder of the Appalachian studies
movement. Referencing the "English Dialect Dictionary," Williams wrote, "Sonker
referred originally to a small grassy knoll
suitable for use as a seat, then to a seat
made from bundles of hay or straw, and
then to a saddle made of straw. The word
is identified as Scottish dialect." North
Carolina, of course, became home to
many Scots-Irish immigrants.
Williams theorized that the irregularly shaped piece of dough used in making sonker reminded some "imaginative
cook" of a grass saddle.
Just about anything from the orchard,
the garden, or the larder can qualify as
the centerpiece of a sonker. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches,
rhubarb and strawberries are common
This plate of sweet potato sonker is from
Putters Patio and Grill, Dobson, North
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