LOWGAP — They might not have realized it, but the people who ventured to the historic Edwards-Franklin House Saturday afternoon were participating in something that happens nowhere else in the world.
That involved attending an annual event named after “sonkers” — deep-dish fruit pies served in a variety of flavors which were in ample abundance there.
While the Surry County Sonker Festival marked its 36th year in existence Saturday, the word sonker dates back much farther than that.
“Sonker is a word unique to this area,” explained Dr. Annette Ayers, a veteran local educator who is the president of the Surry County Historical Society, which holds the festival.
“It is a Surry County word,” Ayers added, “and it goes back to colonial days.”
The sonker festival appropriately takes place against the backdrop of the 1799 Edwards-Franklin House on Haystack Road. It was built by Gideon Edwards and later occupied by congressional representative Meshack Franklin, brother of a North Carolina governor, Jesse Franklin.
It was bought by the Surry County Historical Society in 1973 and restored, with the society maintaining the structure as a piece of living history for the public to enjoy — through events including the sonker festival.
A taste of history
Saturday’s gathering, a fundraiser for the historical organization, also featured live bluegrass music on the front porch of the house by the group None of the Above, which at times drew dancers to a platform set up in the yard for flatfooting; a display of Civil War artifacts; a quilting demonstration; and tours of the historic house.
However, the main attraction seemed to be those delectable desserts for which the festival is named.
Attendees appeared to waste no time making their way to a tent where pans of sonkers rested, and festival workers were busy doling out individual servings in plastic cups at $3 a pop. Available flavors were blueberry, strawberry, cherry, peach, sweet potato and blackberry, with about 50 to 60 large pans of sonkers prepared altogether.
“And the sweet potato (variety) is going like wildfire,” reported Patty Carpenter of Mount Airy, one of the servers.
However, George and Sue Crawford, a couple from State Road, went a different route when choosing their flavors. He picked cherry, while she went with blueberry. But their reviews were the same.
“The sonker is delicious,” Sue Crawford said in between bites. The Crawfords were attending the festival for the first time and in addition to the sweet treats, she said they were enjoying the music.
Meanwhile, on another section on the grounds, peach was the sonker flavor of choice for a Lowgap couple who regularly attend the festival, Grayson and Gina Flippin.
As they sat in lawn chairs in front of the Edwards-Franklin House which others were doing Saturday and watched their 1-year-old daughter Elliot try her hand at dancing, Gina Flippin said they also appreciated the setting itself.
“We love the history.”
Ayers and other members of the sponsoring organization seemed pleased with the turnout fueled by the lure of sonkers.
“We’ve had a steady crowd,” she said of those taking advantage of the opportunity to sample the uniquely Surry County delicacy.
Yet Ayers also acknowledged the taste of history that went along with the event dedicated to the sonker, and its other mission besides tickling the public’s tastebuds:
“We like to keep that word alive.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.