In my hunt for regional delights I've explored everything from Brown Bettys to Cobblers, but one pie-like dessert that has long intrigued me is an Appalachian treat known as a Sonker.
In Pamela Goyan Kittler and Kathryn P. Sucher's book Food and Culture, they describe North Carolinan sonkers as "a deep-dish fruit or sweet potato pie made with breadcrumbs or biscuit dough or pie crust—there is no agreement on how to prepare it."
Sonkers are native to Surry County, North Carolina and Mount Airy has an annual day-long festival in tribute to them. The event website promises "old-time music" and "impromptu flat-foot dancing" as well as a variety of sonkers: apple, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, peach, strawberry and sweet potato. Mount Airy itself was the inspiration for Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D., and I can just imagine dozens of Aunt Beas serving up slices of sonker. Sounds like a foodie road trip if there ever was one.
If you can't make it to Mount Airy, do set aside some time to try a sonker at home, especially while peaches are in their prime.
This version is made with biscuit dough and a lattice crust. One thing's for sure, Sonkers are meant for a crowd, so butter up a big pan and get baking!
- Yield:Serves 10
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:1 hour and 30 minutes
- For the Dough:
- 4 cups (about 20 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) whole milk
- For the Filling:
- 6 ripe medium peaches (about 2 pounds), sliced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits, plus more for greasing pan
Set oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Add flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to mix. Add butter pieces and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, 6 to 8 one-second pulses. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
In a small bowl whisk together eggs and milk. Add liquid to flour mixture. Stir with a spoon until well incorporated and a sticky dough begins to form. Turn dough out on a very well floured surface, sprinkle the top with flour, and knead lightly until you have a soft, workable dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Butter a 9- by 13-inch glass or metal baking dish and set aside. Cut off 2/3 of the dough and return remaining dough to refrigerator. Sprinkle top of dough lightly with flour then cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap and roll out into a rectangle that overlaps the edges of the baking dish by about 2 inches. Lay rolled out dough into the dish, press into the bottom and along the sides.
Add sliced peaches to a large bowl. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Pour mixture over peaches and toss to coat. Transfer peaches to dough-lined pan. In a small bowl mix together light brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg then sprinkle mixture over peaches. Dot with butter pieces.
Divide remaining dough in half, turn it out on a very well floured surface, sprinkle top lightly with flour then cover with a large sheet of plastic wrap and roll out to a large sheet approximately 13 inches long and approximately 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 4 long strips and arrange evenly across the length of the dish (do not press into the sides yet). Repeat rolling out process with remaining dough, this time rolling out a wider sheet that's approximately 9 inches long. Cut the dough into 5 strips. Weave the lattice crust together (for a visual guide, check out this Sweet Technique slideshow). Sprinkle crust with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Bake until crust is golden brown and peaches are bubbly, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 10 to 20 minutes then serve.