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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southern Sonker: A Cobbler Cousin

As a native of Mount Airy, North Carolina, better known to some as "Mayberry," I grew up eating  strawberry or sweet potato sonker often for dessert. "Sonker" is a cousin of the cobbler that I later learned is also native to Surry County. It's a wonderful comfort food and potluck staple.

Exactly what constitutes a cobbler depends on where you grew up. To me, a cobbler is fruit baked with a pie crust top, though not in a pie pan. So no, I don't think a sonker is another name for a cobbler, but then my sonker recipe below may look exactly like what you'd call a cobbler.

The New York Times had an article about the topic last year: "Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles." I love Alma Venable's  quote in the article, "You have the violin and you have the fiddle. The sonker is the fiddle."

And Our State magazine featured the dessert recently as well in "A Foothills Twist on Pie: The Sonker."

Sonker Festival 

If you're local, it's worth a visit to the Sonker Festival, held annually on the first Saturday in October in Lowgap, NC. No admission, just a small charge for sonker by the cup. They serve up all kinds - strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, cherry, sweet potato and more, all to the twang of old-fashioned bluegrass music. Proceeds benefit the Franklin-Edwards house restoration project, at which the event is held.

Dip-sy Do? Or Don't?

My family made mostly strawberry and sweet potato sonkers and never made the "sweet dip" to go along side, though my husband's family prefers blackberry sonker and would never skip the sweet dip.

Though many use the traditional "cuppa cuppa cuppa" recipe, referring to equal parts self-rising flour, milk, sugar, butter and fruit, my family always preferred the recipe below. I'm also including my gluten free, dairy free "cheat" version (for my family with allergies).

Traditional Sonker Recipe

1 stick butter, melted
4 cups of fruit, macerated
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup and 1 tbsp of sugar
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup milk


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt butter in a 9x13 pan or deep dish baking dish (Feel free to melt it in the oven as it warms.)

3. In a cast iron pan or saucepan, stew fruit and 1/4 cup of the sugar sprinkled on top just until bubbling to get the juices flowing.

4. Mix flour, the rest of the sugar, vanilla and milk in mixing bowl and pour into baking dish (some prefer to wait and pour over once fruit is in the dish).

5. Pour fruit and all the juice into the baking dish. (Don't worry, the batter will rise to the top.)

6. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden and juices are bubbling.

Serves: approximately 8

Easy Peach Sonker (gluten free/dairy free)

1 box gluten free yellow cake mix
1 16 oz bag frozen organic peaches
1 15 oz can peaches in light syrup
1 tbsp local honey (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup Earth Balance dairy free "buttery" spread, melted
10 oz seltzer water (I prefer strawberry or peach flavored)

Serves approximately 8


1. Place peaches into 9x13 or other deep baking dish. (I prefer to cut mine into bite-size pieces for ease and to create more juice.) Drizzle honey on top of the fruit.

2. In a mixing bowl, very gently stir the dry cake mix with butter, vanilla and the seltzer water. (The seltzer water helps the batter rise.) Stir gently just until wet. Do not use a mixer.

3. Pour batter over the top of the fruit and fold in the fruit. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.

4. Bake 45 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

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