In search of sonker

Surry Countys signature dessert features eight, diverse stops on the sonker trail. Yet, one native and one non-native have mastered this classic treat in their own unique style.

Emory Rakestraw—for the North State Journal
The Living Room Coffeehouse and WineBar in Pilot Mountain uses a culinary

Surry County’s signature dessert features eight, diverse stops on the sonker trail. Yet, one native and one non-native have mastered this classic treat in their own unique style.No one can quite agree where sonker originated, and if you’re not from Surry County, this might be your first time hearing the word. The cobbler-esque dessert with a peculiar name has been passed down through generations, some say originally to stretch fruit usage during tough times. Carolyn Carter, owner of Rockford General Store in Dobson, noted it as a traditional Scottish dessert. With eight stops on the Sonker Trail, no two are alike.Roxxi and LuLu’s in Elkin prefers the Grandma-taught, stovetop method. Their sonker consists of a soft, dough-like breading and seasonal fruit reflecting foraged finds of the area. The Living Room Coffee House and Wine Bar in Pilot Mountain serves the dough as is on top of a pureed fruit blend. Old North State Winery reflects a more classic, cobbler style, with sweet strawberries and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.Rockford General Store is as classic as they come. Carter says of their baked, sweet potato sonker, “It’s the most traditional on the trail. We literally make our own crust, we roll it out, what you get in the middle is this piping hot mixture.” Their sonker also reflects the heart of any southern dessert – lots of sugar, butter and love.From a general store to an upscale restaurant – the Sonker Trail is just as unique as the dessert itself. Carter attributes the diversity to the wide array of chefs in the area, from “hoity-toity” to down-home.You can follow the trail to Pilot Mountain, Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, and even one of the best bakeries in North Carolina – Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies in Mount Airy.New York native, Angela Shur, (better known as Miss Angel) found herself in Mount Airy 11 years ago. New to the area, Shur and her husband, Randy, bought a fruit farm and orchard that’s now 62 acres, eventually opening Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies.Yet the local dessert was completely foreign to her. But as it turns out, not too foreign: from her northern neck of the woods, she said “We call it cobbler.”When mentioning the cobbler reference Carter notes “Traditional sonker is the opposite of cobbler, you have a lot of fruit and a lot of juice – it’s not like cobbler at all to me.” So, is this a Tale of Two (or possibly eight) sonkers in Surry County?Shur first heard of sonker when people came to the shop requesting it. She set out to make her own using seasonal fruits grown on their farm. Her personal favorite? Peach Amaretto. Shur also adds a bit of spirit, incorporating a moonshine glaze at the request of customers. Aside from the optional buzz, “We go between a cobbler and pie crust, it’s very distinct,” said Shur.When not running Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies, or on the farm, she greatly contributes to the Mount Airy community, notably supplying 150-400 desserts each Thursday for Friends Feeding Friends homeless shelter. Next year, the Shurs plan to open their farm to the public with Surry County’s first pick-your-own orchard.While deemed a native dessert, even non-natives like Angela have found ways to incorporate their own baking methods to master the art of sonker. One thing it seems Shur and Carter both agree on is it’s the crust that makes sonker so unique – not too breaded, not too overpowering. Even if you read about sonker and study the trail, there’s really no way to understand exactly what it is without trying it yourself.Akin to North Carolina’s unique dialect, it can almost be compared to the word ‘yonder.’ We know where yonder is, we know where we’re going when we say yonder, but an outsider wouldn’t. It’s a “try and you’ll understand” type deal. A New York Times article from 2013 put sonker on the map, and described it as a dessert, “baked nowhere else in the nation.” Luckily, we’re only a car ride away from Surry County’s best-kept secret.