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Eatymology: Sonker

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Eatymology: Sonker
The dip's evaporated milk and honey add a nuttiness that compliments the sweet-tart rhubarb. | Photography by Hélène Dujardin

Sonker

[són-kər]

Northwestern North Carolina’s signature deep-dish dessert

If you’ve never heard of sonker, you’re not alone. One of the lesser-known characters in the cast of baked fruit desserts, a sonker is a deep, soupy dish born of the need to use overripe fruit. The dessert hails from Surry County, North Carolina, a patch of land in the northwestern part of the state along the Virginia border. A festival in its name is held each October in the small community of Lowgap, and there’s even a Sonker Trail with eight stops serving unique takes on the county favorite.

As with most country recipes, sonkers are as varied as the families who bake them. But they fall into two main camps: in one, fruit plays a starring role— blackberries, huckleberries, peaches, strawberries, whatever’s on hand. This deep-dish cousin of the cobbler is filled with ladles of juicy fruit and then, typically, topped with a cakelike batter. On the other end of the sonker spectrum are sweet potato sonkers, which are reminiscent of pie with a lattice crust (though whether there’s a bottom crust involved is yet another matter of contention). For all their variations, sonkers are unified by a distinct detail: milk dip. It’s a thick and sweet sauce that’s drizzled over the baked sonker before digging in.

Rhubarb Sonker with Milk Dip