Save Room for Sonker
And don’t forget the milk dipBy Matt Lardie
Look, there on the table! Is it a pie? Is it a cobbler? No, no it’s...sonker!
If your first reaction is, “Well, what the heck is a sonker?” don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Sonker is a dessert that hails from western North Carolina, with a provenance centered around Surry County (home of Mount Airy, the setting for The Andy Griffith Show’s fictional town of Mayberry).
The closest thing to a sonker would be a cobbler, but that’s where the agreement ends, and even then there are some who would chafe at that description.
One family’s sonker might be made with peaches and have a pie-like crust floating atop the filling, while just down the road another household might make their sonker from sweet potatoes or apples with a batter-like topping that bakes into the filling. Many sonkers are served with a “milk dip,” a creamy, sweet sauce meant to be poured over the top of the dessert.
Sonker varies from hill to holler, from family to family, and the easiest way to learn more about sonker is to try some for yourself: Enter the Surry Sonker Trail, a journey to eight different locations across Surry County, all serving their own takes on this iconic dessert. You can try the sweet potato sonker at The Tilted Ladder in Pilot Mountain, served piping hot in a martini glass with milk dip alongside. Or venture up to Mount Airy for a stop at Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, where her ‘zonka (bring your own Long Island accent to match wits with Miss Angel) is made from fresh fruit grown on her own farm.
Shelton Vineyards serves an upscale version of sonker at their vineyard restaurant, a perfect way to end a meal, especially when washed down with a glass of dessert wine. Rockford General Store offers their sonkers to travelers exploring this tiny, historic corner of Dobson; a recent version was a spiced peach sonker with fresh vanilla ice cream.
Skull Camp Smokehouse and Brewery in Elkin has a rotating seasonal sonker (with ice cream!) to accompany their extensive menu of smoked meats, while a short distance away in the center of town, Southern on Main makes each of their blueberry or apple sonkers to order, guaranteeing a fresh-baked sonker experience every time.
Anchored Bakery and Prudence McCabe Confections, both in Mount Airy, round out the current roster of Surry Sonker Trail participants; Anchored Bakery’s individual-sized sonkers can be enjoyed in the bakery or taken home for later, and the sonkers at Prudence McCabe are based on owner and baker Sue Heckman’s grandmother’s family recipe.
Each version of sonker, whether served at a restaurant or pulled from a home oven, carries its own story and sense of place, for nowhere else in America can you plop yourself down at a table and ask, “What kind of sonker do you have today?” Try that in Tennessee or Texas and you’ll get funny looks, but ask about sonker in Surry County and they’ll know just what you mean.
Perhaps it’s high time you took a (very delicious) ride on the Sonker Trail to discover one of North Carolina’s most unique desserts for yourself.
Navigating the Sonker Trail
Traverse Surry County to find the sonker you like most — these eight stops on the Sonker Trail (sonkertrail.org) are sure to please. And don’t miss the annual Sonker Festival, more than 40 years strong and typically held in the fall. (Photo by Sara Brennan)
Make your own
Here's a mouthwatering recipe from Shelton Vineyards that features a marriage of blackberries and apricots marinated in honey and wine, then capped with a golden crust. Try your hand at Blackberry-Apricot Sonker today!
About the AuthorMatt Lardie is a Durham-based freelance food, wine and travel writer who has written for Eater, Our State Magazine, Wine Enthusiast, Robb Report and more. His last meal would be pepperoni pizza, mashed potatoes with too much butter, a gin martini and a slice of Key Lime Pie.
Trails, trails, trails