Bringing sweet memories back to life

David Broyles Staff Reporter

October 3, 2013

The Surry County Historical Society is scheduled to once again showcase the deep dish version of a cobbler, the sonker, at the 34th Annual Sonker Festival Saturday at the Edwards-Franklin House.

Historical Society Vice President and Festival Chairperson Emma Jean Tucker has been involved with the celebration for more than ten years. She said flavors of the local dessert featured this year are cherry, peach, strawberry, blueberry and the two most popular flavors, sweet potato and blackberry.

Tucker said the festival also serves up coffee, water and soda. The price per cup of sonker is $2 with all proceeds going to benefit the society. The festival will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Edwards-Franklin House on 4132 Haystack Road in Mount Airy. She said the recent profiles of the dessert in The New York Times by Kim Severson have highlighted a growing interest in the creation.

Severson described the sonker as “A big, deep, soupy mess of warm fruit or soft sweet potato, the sonker was made to feed everyone who happened to be working at the farm on any given summer day. Like the many other players in the loose-knit team of dishes based on cooked fruit and bread, it began as a way to stretch fruit that was perhaps past its glory or make use of economical fillings like wild blackberries.”

Tucker said word got around quickly after deciding on using the appeal of the sonker. She said locals, familiar with the term quickly filled out the ranks of early festival participants because they knew what to expect.

“A lot of people know about our festival now,” said Tucker. “There really seems to be a new interest in sonkers and I’m not really sure why. When we first started members made all the sonkers but the event has grown. Now we plan for 500 participants. People bring their lawn chairs and sit out enjoying the Old-Time and Bluegrass music being played on the porch.”

The duties of making sweet potato sonkers have been passed to Lorene’s Bakery of Dobson, which recreates the dessert in great quantities from an authentic recipe. The inherit serendipity of the sonker is echoed in the impromptu groups of musicians and dancers which regularly breaks out at the event. The musical side of things is headed up by David Crawford, who is a musician and member of the society.

“We put down a piece of plywood in the front yard for people to dance on,” Tucker said. “I can remember when we first started there were groups playing music on the porch and at other places on the property. It’s just good simple fun.”

The historic Edwards-Franklin house, which is more than 214 years old, will be open for tours. Quilting displays and a civil war display by Walter White will also be featured. Society publications will be for sale as well as a sonker cookbook which is priced at $3.

Society members Ruth Richards and Cama and Robert Merritt have been involved with the festival since it began. Richards and her husband, Swanson were among members looking for ways to draw people to see the historic house. Ruth Richards says she remembers the Merritts didn’t know much about the desert offering but soon became major players in establishing the event.

“I remember my grandmother, who prided herself on cooking for a family of 12, used to make the sweet potato sonker,” said Richards. “When we were planning this we knew about it (sonker) but didn’t really know much about them. What cinched it was when we found out it was mentioned in a cookbook of George Washington’s.” She said Extension Demonstration Clubs (not called ECA groups) made the first sonkers for the festival.

“It’s just been a fun get together from the beginning and it’s still going to be fun again this year,” said Roberts.

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.