The 33rd Annual Sonker Festival held at the Edwards-Franklin House is about community united by the house as much as it is enjoying what historically has been a favorite local dessert.
“We have a lot of first timers here again this year,” said Surry County Historical Society Board of Directors member Brenda Edwards. “They walk up and stand and look at the selection and try to make up their minds.”
Edwards said the selection included peach, blackberry, cherry, strawberry and the popular local favorite, sweet potato. She said strawberry was the clear winner this year because they had sold all of them out a little less than two hours after the festival started.
Luther Smith, of Greenville, S.C., was one of a group of musicians sitting on the front porch of the historic home built in 1799 as part of a 2,000-acre plantation. Smith said this was his first festival. He said he was encouraged to attend by his father, Kennett, who often plays his banjo at the festivals with his brother, William.
“This is pretty cool,” said Luther Smith. “I intend to take advantage of a break here soon and go down to sample a sonker. That will also be a first time thing for me.”
Ashley Sawyers, an eighth-grade student at Gentry Middle School, was attending the festival with her mother, Laura, and a classmate, Haylie Bullock.
“We never get to hear anything much about American places like this house here. I learned about it two months ago,” said Ashley Sawyers. “My favorite thing is the bed with curtains. I am also here to find out about sonkers. I am not sure about what flavor.” Minutes after asking her mother for two dollars for a sonker, she came back and grinned as she said it was delicious.
Surry County Historical Society spokesperson Dr. Annette Ayers explained that sonker is just a form of deep dish cobbler.
“Lots of people in Surry County have recipes for sonker. It has deep historical roots here,” said Ayers. “Because of the fast pace of living many people do not have the time to cook traditional food. The festival gives them a chance to do this.”
She said the centerpiece of the event really is the home and not the desserts.
Ayers said great attention is paid to maintaining the home’s status on the National Historic Register. She said that the society has contacted Paul Fromberg from the North Carolina Preservation Commission to advise them on materials to use on upcoming repairs at the home. She noted a group of young musicians crossing the road to the home, all carrying instruments.
“We enjoy seeing young musicians interested in old time music and we sell a lot of cookbooks at this festival. This is a statewide event with visitors from eastern North Carolina as well. Many mark this on their calenders and return every year. Someone here today will be one of the future caretakers of this house.”
Ayers should know. She was spotted and recruited as one of the extended family of the Edwards-Franklin House by Cama Merritt, who served off and on for 30 years as society president. Merritt remembers Ayers’ first visit to the house as a teacher with students on a tour and thinking there was someone to recruit to the cause.
“The first year we held the festival we were thrilled people came, toured the home and told us what they remembered about the house,” recalled Merritt. “In the following years we saw others come to this from across the state. It’s like a family reunion of the house. Instead of a patriarch it is the house. People can come out and enjoy it and have an old fashioned afternoon on the lawn.”
Ayers said that Merritt is an inspiration to the society members to not just preserve history but to pass it on.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.