Folks are bonkers for sonkers at festival

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@mtairynews.com
A long line stretches from a serving tent to the right all around the yard of the historic Edwards-Franklin House as festival attendees patiently await their sonker servings.
A long line stretches from a serving tent to the right all around the yard of the historic Edwards-Franklin House as festival attendees patiently await their sonker servings. -
Sonkers are scooped from a tray into plastic cups, with a variety of flavors offered. - Tom Joyce | The News
Allen and Karen Armstrong, recent arrivals to Mount Airy from San Antonio, Texas, enjoy their first taste of a sonker. - Tom Joyce | The News
Members of The West Surry Rangers perform an old-time instrumental from the porch of the Edwards-Franklin House to the enjoyment of listeners. - - Tom Joyce | The News
Holly Hull, 13, of Sparta, shows off her dancing skills on a flatfooting board. She is a member of Rhythmic Expression, a clogging company in Sparta which offers classes in that art form. - - Tom Joyce | The News

October weather can never be counted on — it might be hot one day, cool the next, rainy or all of the above — but one undeniable fact is that folks are always going to show up in droves for the Surry County Sonker Festival.

That has been true each October when it is held. And it was once again Saturday afternoon when hundreds of people showed up at the Edwards-Franklin House for the event that was marking its 40th year honoring a deep-dish fruit pie known as the sonker.

The official starting time for the festival was 1 p.m. and at that time a long line already had formed at a serving tent where the tasty treats were being doled out in plastic cups. The line snaked its way around the lawn of the historic house on Haystack Road as eager customers waited patiently for their just dessert.

Attendance was heavy despite a sudden cold snap that brought temperatures in the high 50s under cloudy skies, after days of record-breaking heat locally.

As people crowded around the grounds wearing jackets and sweaters, one of the servers, Mary Cowles of Lowgap — the treasurer of the Surry Historical Society, which sponsors the Sonker Festival — mentioned that the cooler weather seemed to have boosted attendance.

“It always helps when it’s cool,” agreed Dr. Annette Ayers, the president of the group, referring to how a hot day on the other hand might have been uncomfortable for attendees sitting around the yard in lawn chairs to enjoy their sonkers.

Among other attractions Saturday was live music by an old-time band that played on the porch of the house, The West Surry Rangers, along with flatfooting, a quilting demonstration and Carol Halldorson of Siloam working with an old-time spinning wheel. Also on tap were a Civil War display and tours of the Edwards-Franklin House that dates to 1799.

Unique treat

However, the sonkers were undeniably the star of the show on Saturday, drawing rave reviews from consumers.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the appeal of the sweet delicacy that it is unique to this region involves the fact it is a bit of a novelty. This is due to sonkers being available only one time per year as far as what’s served up during the Edwards-Franklin House gathering.

Described as not really cobbler and not really pie, sonkers were offered in a variety of flavors Saturday, including cherry, blackberry, strawberry, peach, sweet potato and blueberry, with sweet potato being the most popular.

Many people there were sonker veterans who knew the ropes of the dessert in question and promptly selected their favorites, while others were experiencing sonkers for the first time.

Allen and Karen Armstrong, a couple recently relocating to this area, fit into that latter category.

“We just moved from San Antonio, Texas, to Mount Airy and heard about the Sonker Festival and here we are,” Karen Armstrong said.

The couple’s inaugural foray into sonkerdom included sampling three different flavors: sweet potato, peach and blackberry, which produced smiles.

“I love it — very good,” Karen Armstrong said.

“Definitely reminds me of cobbler, a doughy kind of cobbler,” was her husband’s assessment of the blackberry sonker.

Durwood Howell of Winston-Salem also got his initial taste of a sonker Saturday afternoon.

“I thought it was mostly fruit cobbler, to be honest,” Howell said in offering his review. “But there seems to be a crunchiness to it, which I like.”

While Howell was attending the Sonker Festival for the first time, along with his wife, “I’d heard about it before,” he said, and the two decided to take in its 2019 edition. “We were already going to be on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the weekend.”

Others came from much farther away, including Mike Bissell of Ludington, Michigan, and his dad Robert.

The two were in this area as “kind of a yearly visit,” Mike explained. They decided to attend the Sonker Festival at the urging of a local relative, his uncle and Robert’s brother, who had bragged about not only the deep-dish fruit pies, but the old-time music, flatfooting and other entertainment it offered.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to come down here and see this.’”

A long line stretches from a serving tent to the right all around the yard of the historic Edwards-Franklin House as festival attendees patiently await their sonker servings.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/web1_Zonnk-this-1.jpgA long line stretches from a serving tent to the right all around the yard of the historic Edwards-Franklin House as festival attendees patiently await their sonker servings.

Sonkers are scooped from a tray into plastic cups, with a variety of flavors offered.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/web1_Zonnk-this-2.jpgSonkers are scooped from a tray into plastic cups, with a variety of flavors offered.Tom Joyce | The News

Allen and Karen Armstrong, recent arrivals to Mount Airy from San Antonio, Texas, enjoy their first taste of a sonker.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/web1_Zonnk-this-3.jpgAllen and Karen Armstrong, recent arrivals to Mount Airy from San Antonio, Texas, enjoy their first taste of a sonker.Tom Joyce | The News

Members of The West Surry Rangers perform an old-time instrumental from the porch of the Edwards-Franklin House to the enjoyment of listeners.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/web1_Zonnk-this-4.jpgMembers of The West Surry Rangers perform an old-time instrumental from the porch of the Edwards-Franklin House to the enjoyment of listeners.Tom Joyce | The News

Holly Hull, 13, of Sparta, shows off her dancing skills on a flatfooting board. She is a member of Rhythmic Expression, a clogging company in Sparta which offers classes in that art form.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/web1_Zonnk-this-5.jpgHolly Hull, 13, of Sparta, shows off her dancing skills on a flatfooting board. She is a member of Rhythmic Expression, a clogging company in Sparta which offers classes in that art form.Tom Joyce | The News

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@mtairynews.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.