Regional dessert enjoys renewed attention

David Broyles Staff Reporter

October 6, 2013

LOWGAP — It could be fairly stated that quite a few people were served their just desserts Saturday afternoon at the 34th Annual Sonker Festival at the Edwards-Franklin House.

Surry County Historical Society Vice President President Emma Jean Tucker said that a recent article in The New York Times on the deep dish dessert has heightened awareness of the country creation, and that seemed to be evident Saturday. “Our State” photographer Sara Brennan-Harrell who was at the festival to shoot pictures for an upcoming feature titled “Cake vs. Pie.”

Brennan-Harrell said her first impressions of sonker were good ones and she had already picked a favorite flavor, blackberry. She said she is also a definite fan of “the dip” sauce which is used to complement the cobblers and reminds her of melted ice cream. She said her husband, Brad Harrell, has chosen peach as his favorite flavor while other family members liked strawberry.

Freelance writer and food writer Aaron Carnes, who often writes for publications in California, was also on hand and got to sample the cuisine and talk with Cama Merritt and Historical Society President Dr. Annette Ayers about all things sonker. Carnes said it was his first time in North Carolina and to a sonker festival. He said he likes the dip used to top the cobbler and was drawn to the event out of curiosity over sonker history.

“The turnout has been fantastic. They usually line up down the hill (from the house),” said Ayers. “We’ve had hundreds here today. We’ve sold seven of our society publications as well. The main point is to introduce people to the house. We’ve combined history and culture with this and brought out a lot of our friends and neighbors.”

She said participants had come to the festival from as far away as Kentucky and California and the festival had its first bus, which was from a church in Surry County. She also praised the support the group has been given from the local persons as well as other from across the state.

“This is an event of the entire historical society to plan, prepare and coordinate. Our mission is not only to preserve and restore but to share history,” Ayers said. “This year is the 40th anniversary of the historical society. It’s open to everyone and you can never have enough members. We are very inclusive.” She said several had joined the group at the festival.

One example of this new interest is Brooke Springthorpe, who was a former Gentry Middle School student of Ayers in the 1990s. Springthorpe said she has returned after earning her master’s degree in medieval history in the United Kingdom. Saturday was her first time at the festival, even though she grew up in Lowgap. She said her favorite flavor of sonker was sweet potato, with the dip.

“I think the society has done a good job here,” said Springthorpe. “This house in on the National Registry of Historic Places.”

Clogger Samantha Wilhelmi, who teaches classes on this form of dance for the Surry Arts Council, was also on hand as well as local musicians who performed on the front porch of the house. The historic Edwards-Franklin house, which is more than 214 years old, was open for tours during the festival and included some new displays of fabrics in the “loom room” of the house. Quilting was also demonstrated on the front lawn of the home.

Persons interested in the society may contact Ayers at 336-325-2161 for more information on the group’s activities.

Reach David Broyles at or 336-719-1952.