For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.
In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a fixture in our DNA as in our culture.
Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.
My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.
I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.
Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.
And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)
I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.
It’s a good thing I like sweet potatoes. Living in the heart of the biggest sweet potato producing state in the country, I can enjoy sweet potatoes year-round. I usually like sweet potatoes baked, then split down the middle with a pat of salted butter melting into the creamy, orange flesh. Add some green beans, a tall, glass of sweet tea, and you have one filling meal very inexpensively.
North Carolina is the top producer of sweet potatoes in the U.S. There are over 400 sweet potato growers in NC.
This Thanksgiving, I baked both the familiar sweet potato casserole many mistakenly refer to as yams, from a recipe found in a cookbook I have had for years. The addition of orange juice, sets this recipe apart from the traditional casserole topped with marshmallows. Of, course, I always add the marshmallows, my family would have a fit if I deviated too far from the original recipe.
Sweet potatoes and yams are not the same. Yams are a starchy, root vegetable belonging to the Dioscorea genus, and are often imported from the Carribean region. Sweet Potatoes are not acually potatoes either, they belong to the morning glory family; Irish potatoes belong to the nightshade family.
The holidays wouldn’t be the same without a side dish of marshmallow topped sweet potato casserole or a sweet potato pie for dessert. And though pumpkin pie holds the top spot for favorite Thanksgiving desserts, many never consider sweet potato pie for their holiday table. Well, I am not a fan of pumpkin, there is something in the texture that makes it unpalatable for me, sweet potatoes are firmer and have a taste that is much smoother in my opinion, and with just a hint of spice, unlike pumpkin pie that holds an aftertaste from to much added spice.
The flesh of sweet potatoes come in many colors that vary from white to orange, and even a deep purple!
Although I have never ventured furter than baking my sweet potatoes for supper, they can be cut, cubed and roasted, baked, sauteed, and served in a variety of ways. And since sweet potatoes are considered diabetic friendly, many people can enjoy them without worrying about spikes in their blood sugar as with the tradtional Irish potato. I feel so much better when I choose sweet potatoes for supper than a white potato covered in salt, butter and sour cream.
Sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene, vitamins A and C. They are also high in minerals iron, potassium, and vitamin B6. A medium sized sweet potato has only 100 calories.
I have included two of my favorite sweet potato recipes here. I hope you will enjoy them as much as my family and I have.
Never store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator! They will become hard and produce an unpleasant taste. Keep them in a cool, dry, airtight container for best results. Keep them away from sources of heat. Sweet potaoes can be stored up to 2 weeks.
Preheat oven to 350*. Grease a baking dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, orange juice, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt, 3 tbps. melted butter, and cinnamon. Beat until fluffy, and pour into prepared baking dish.
If topping is desired, in a seperate bowl, add 3 tbps. melted butter, brown sugar, flour, and pecans. Mix together. Sprinkle mixture over potatoes and bake at 350* for 35 minutes. Remove from oven.
Add marshmallows if desired after casserole is baked. Return to oven for 2 minutes, maximum. Keep an eye on it as they can catch and burn quickly!
February is National Sweet Potato Month!
North Carolina Sweet Potato Pie
1 & 1/2 cups sweet potatoes
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 light brown sugar
4 tbps. sofened butter
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 large egg
5 tbps. instant vanilla pudding
Peel sweet potatoes, cook until soft and easily mashed with a fork. Beat with mixer untl free of lumps. Add remaining ingredients and beat well. Pour into unbaked 9 inch pie crust. Bake at 450* for 10 minutes; lower baking temperature and continue to bake at 350* for 30 minutes.
Recipe from NC Department of Agriculture.
Facts about sweet potatoes from North Carolina Sweet Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes.com
It always happens during the holiday season. In the frenzied activity surrounding that need to return to our roots, we begin the yearly ritual of baking from scratch. In the process we usually end up “baking as we go,” resulting in the realization that we are missing one ingredient or another. Panic sets in and we are off in a flash to the local grocery store in the hopes one is open, and they will have that one ingredient you so desperately need for baking success.
In anticipation of the approaching holiday baking season, I have prepared a list of most common ingredients used in baking and substitutions that can be used in a pinch.
Allspice: 1 tsp.= ground cloves cinnamon, and nutmeg to taste.
Anise: fennel can be used instead.
Apples: 1 cup, chopped, = 1 cup of firm pears. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice for acidity.
Baking powder: for 1 tsp., mix together 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, and 1/4 tsp. baking soda. You can also substitute 4 tsp. quick-cooking tapioca.
Baking chocolate: 1 ounce, (1 square unsweetened), use 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa and 1 tbsp. shortening.
Bread crumbs: use 1/4 cup cracker crumbs to equal 1/4 cup of bread crumbs, or, 1/2 slice of bread, cut into cubes and toasted.
Brown sugar: for 1/2 cup of firmly-packed brown sugar, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar with 2 tbsp. molasses.
Butter: in baking, use margarine, shortening. You can also use up to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. Applesauce and prune puree can also be used as a replacement for butter, up to 1/2 cup.
Buttermilk: for 1 cup, add 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of whole milk, let stand for five minutes.
Cake flour: for every 1 cup; use 1cup flour minus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour.
Cardamom: cinnamon can be used a substitute.
Heavy cream; 1 cup: 3/4 cup of whole milk plus 1/4 cup of melted butter.
Honey; 1 cup: 1/4 cups sugar with 1/4 cup of water.
Light corn syrup; 1/2 cup: 1/2 cup sugar plus 2 tbsp. of liquid.
Lemon peel; 1tsp.: 1/2 tsp. dried peel.
Orange peel; 1 tsp.: 1/2 tsp. dried peel.
Pumpkin Pie spice; 1 tsp.: mix together 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. allspice, and 1/8 tsp. cardamom.
I hope these emergency substitutions will get you through your holiday baking without tears. Just remember, these are not exact substitutions, rather they are the closest in similarity. Your results may vary when using alternative ingredients. Make sure your spices are fresh. Outdated spices will not give you desired results whatever you decide to bake this holiday.
Of, course the practice is to check your spice shelf and throw out the old, and bring in the new. Check local markets and sales circulars for best prices. Many stores prominently display their baking items this time of year, so watch for specials.
Sign up for emails from your favorite brands as they sometimes send coupons and you are the first to be made aware of new products and recipes.
Thanks for reading and good luck with all your baking.
I am still awaiting the cooler nights and more temperate days of fall to greet me as I open the door on a new day, each morning. What I find is sweltering heat and the sun stinging my tender skin with burning rays meant only for summer and refreshing dips into swimming pools. It seems Mother Nature has other ideas in spite of the local merchants and their displays of orange and yellow gourds, bushy mums, and enough bags of candy to fill every sweet tooth in the neighborhood. Outside the window from where I write, the privet shrub shows signs of a silvery web spun by spiders awaiting their prey. Still, the temperature gauge on the dashboard of my car reads 121*!
Though it meant an evening tucked into my southwest facing kitchen, I could wait no longer. The crisper drawer of my refrigerator was packed with bright, shiny, Red Delicious apples and they needed a buttery, rolled out pastry, along with the mix of spices reminiscent of multi colored leaves and chilly nights spent bundled up under a cozy, throw along with my dog.
I had already been spending a few days shuffling through the pages of an old recipe book when my eyes rested upon a different take on apple pie. This one was chocked full of pecans lining the bottom of a pie plate, reminding me of days spent at our state’s farmer’s market and the wooden pails of various nuts lining the stalls for customers and their favorite recipes.
This recipe takes a bit of planning and extra steps, but the result is worth it. A pie sweet with the aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg, with a crunch of meaty pecans. I hope you will give it a try and enjoy it with a great dollop of vanilla ice cream…even if it is 100* outside!
Apple-Pecan Upside-Down Pie
¼ cup butter or margarine
⅔ cup chopped pecans
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar; set aside ⅓ cup from this cup of brown sugar
(2) 9 inch pastry crusts
5-6 medium sized cooking apples, sliced thin
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. Salt
Spread butter or margarine evenly over the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate.
Sprinkle pecans over the bottom and sides of buttered pie plate. Press down firmly.
Sprinkle ⅔ cup of 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar over the pecan layer. Press the sugar down firmly.
Place one of the 2 pie pastry crusts over the pecan-sugar layer. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine apples and lemon juice.
In another bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and the remaining sugar.
Combine the spice mixture to the bowl of apples and lemon juice, tossing together well.
Spoon the apple mixture over the pastry crust. Add the other pastry crust over the apple layer.
Trim edges and seal the pastry edges together and flute the edge of the pastry.
Cut slits into the top of pastry crust to allow for steam to escape.
Bake in a 450* oven for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350* and bake an additional 40-50 minutes.
Remove pie from oven and allow it to cool for 2-5 minutes.
Invert pie onto serving plate.
Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
The summer heat is still holding a firm grip on the Southern United States as I write this post. Hints of fall are evident, but still lacking are the cooler nights and drier air we associate with a change over to the most colorful of all seasons. Even if my mind is turning with thoughts of pie baking and celebratory events soon to come, a quick step outside with my dog reminds me that summer is still upon us.
Change comes upon us sometimes suddenly, or unexpectedly, and whether we are ready to embrace it or not, change is, oddly enough, constant. Change can bring excitement or worry.
However, sometimes we find ourselves fighting for change and hopefully, all for the better. As someone concerned with women’s issues, I will be happy in celebrating the fight for change our ancestors fought for in obtaining the right to vote.
Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment allowing women in the United States the right to vote. It was a battle fought over decades with little changes, and with many stories of courage and determination, along with scars both physical and mental, for the effort. Many others changed our lives simply by going about the daily business of getting things done. One such woman was a southern girl who did just that. Her name was Eugenia Duke.
Eugenia Thomas Slade Duke never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur or a legend, she just wanted to serve others as best she could, doing what she did best. And in making sandwiches for troops on their way to Europe during World War I, she planted the roots that would become an empire. And among Southerners and many world-class chefs, Eugenia Duke is a household name.
In 1917, the world was fully entangled in the war in Europe, and as the United States joined forces overseas, many a young soldier found himself miles from home, training for trench warfare in military posts across the States. None of these young men knew what they were about to encounter, and leaving behind the only life they knew must have been a shock, especially considering America was still a mainly agricultural society then, especially in the South.
While women rolled bandages, knit socks, and sewed blankets, Eugenia began making sandwiches.
Chicken salad, egg salad, and pimento cheese slathered between slices of bread would have been welcome to any boy far from his mother’s kitchen, but it was Eugenia’s homemade mayonnaise that made all the difference. Charging just ten cents each, soldiers couldn’t get enough of Eugenia’s sandwiches.
When the war ended, Eugenia began selling her sandwiches at a local Greenville drugstore and demand was such that is rumored that in the spring of 1919, she once sold 10,000 sandwiches in one day.
In 1923, she was encouraged by her top salesperson, C.B. Boyd, to concentrate on her mayonnaise spread, as that was what made her sandwiches so special. Eugenia took a leap of faith and bought a building in downtown Greenville to manufacture “Duke’s Mayonnaise.” She made another savvy move in striking a deal with the Ottaray Hotel, by asking them to allow her to host tea parties in their lobby. Of course, the sandwiches were made with Duke’s Mayonnaise.
Active in women’s rights, Eugenia Duke became a fixture in Greenville society and I am sure discussions about the right to vote came up during those elegant tea parties as she was active in seeing women obtained the right to vote. No doubt she did more for the women’s vote in the South with her sandwiches and mayonnaise than a thousand marches and riots ever could. Afterall, the deciding vote came from Representative Harry T. Burn from Tennessee who opposed women having the right to vote, then remembered his mother and her support of the 19th Amendment. Maybe he also remembered the home cooked meals she fed him growing up.
Oddly enough, a 1920 Census report, she lists her occupation as, “none.” Apparently, she thought her thriving empire was just something she did for others, not a sign of her making her mark on the world or as a means of making a statement about the ability of a woman to make a name for herself in a man’s world.
By 1929, Duke’s Mayonnaise was so successful that Mrs. Duke sold the company to C.F. Sauer, a family-owned company producing spices and extracts for housewives. The company still markets Duke’s Mayonnaise to this day.
But selling her business didn’t mean Eugenia was finished and ready to hang up her apron. In 1950, her daughter Martha, married and moved out to California. Eugenia and her husband soon followed, and Eugenia began making sandwiches again under a new name…The Duchess Sandwich Company. They continued to sell sandwiches until Eugenia died at age 90.
Both home cooks and celebrated chefs use Duke’s Mayonnaise in their kitchens today. We love the tanginess of Duke’s and what it brings to recipes that other sandwich spreads do not. Made with a heart to serve others may be the secret ingredient in Eugenia Duke’s recipe that made her a woman before her time. I cannot imagine a Southern kitchen without a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise or a world without a spirit like Eugenia Duke. Let’s celebrate our Votes For Women victory with a sandwich made with a spoonful of Duke’s Mayonnaise.
Back in the Eighties, the country music group, Alabama, had a song called “Song of the South,” that was very popular. Within the lyrics is a line that goes, “Somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor we couldn’t tell.” Unfortunately, for millions in our nation, things haven’t changed much. For too many, The Great Depression, is alive and well even in America, the Land of Plenty. Many is the two income family that is desperately trying to make ends meet.
But before this begins to sound political, this blog post isn’t about politics, it’s about good ‘ole Southern baking. Though it would be difficult to find any Southerner who doesn’t freely offer an opinion on politics when prompted even slightly. We all know and have experienced moments of needing to cut back on spending and savor what we already have. And many recipes of Southern origin focus on doing a lot with oh so little. Vinegar Pie certainly fills a sweet tooth on very sparse ingredients.
The origins of Vinegar Pie go back to our pioneer days when fresh produce was difficult to come by. Whether travelling across country, or simply trying to make a living off the land where one settled and called home, fresh fruit was a luxury, and many times not available.
The taste of this pie is a contradiction of its name. It isn’t acidic as its moniker suggests. It is a truly sweet and flavorful pie. Many are the variations as some recipes call for apple cider vinegar and others for distilled, white vinegar. I’ll include two recipes here for those with either one staple in the pantry or the other. If you have never tried Vinegar Pie, you will be surprised by how such simple ingredients can become such a flavorsome treat!
Recipe for Vinegar Pie:
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup of melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 unbaked pie shell for 9 inch pie
Preheat oven to 350*. Combine the sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt and vinegar in a large bowl. Stir until ingredients are well blended. Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Allow to cool or serve slightly warm. (This pie is even better with a dollop of whipped cream on top).
Recipe for Vinegar Pie
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups boiling water
¼ cup vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon flavoring or lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar
Beat egg yolks until thick. Mix sugar and salt with flour, blend well. Add boiling water slowly while stirring. Add vinegar. Cook over hot water, stirring until smooth and thick.
Remove from heat and add flavoring or juice. Allow mixture to cool. Pour into a baked pie shell.
Make meringue of egg whites and 6 tablespoons of sugar. Spread over top of pie. Brown in slow oven at 325*.
(This is a recipe I found in an old cookbook, North Carolina and Old Salem Cookery by Elizabeth Hedgecock Sparks (Beth Tartan)).
I have never been a “cherry” person. For whatever reason, I just never found these round, ruby colored jewels of fruit to be very appealing. My mother will confirm this. Every time we go out for a hot fudge sundae, or any dessert served with a cherry on top, she will end up with two cherries on her dessert. I just can’t handle eating a plain, old cherry. There is something about it my palate just doesn’t like. I can eat cherries within a cake or anytime it is covered in rich, dark chocolate, but never “just cherries.”
For that reason, I have never baked a cherry pie. I could eat a slice of cherry pie with a heaping spoonful of vanilla ice cream dripping over the pastry crust, and melting slowly into the juice, but it wasn’t enough for me to set about baking one from scratch on a hot July afternoon.
It wasn’t until our local grocery store featured fresh, sweet cherries at $1.99 a pound, and the Fourth of July holiday, that I decided to take the plunge. There is something about the rich, red cherry and the thought of fireworks bursting in the night sky that make cherry pie our go-to dessert this time of year.
I am glad I did. This recipe I found in Better Homes and Gardens, “Baking Step-by-Step,” was a cinch to make and easy to adapt using fresh cherries instead of canned cherries as is stated in the original recipe. Though I did have to break down and use a store-bought crust, (my pastry wasn’t cooperating in my humid kitchen, even with two fans running), the lattice was simpler than I anticipated. I could have skipped the fancy lattice crust but I needed an excuse to use my new pastry crimper. The result was a tasty, slightly tart, cherry lattice pie that was perfect for any reason; not just Independence Day.
Recipe for Fresh Cherry Pie with Lattice Crust
2 frozen pastry crusts or recipe for double pastry crusts if baking from scratch (allow frozen pastry to come to room temperature)
1 lb. fresh, sweet cherries; pitted (the original recipe calls for (2) 14 ½ oz. cans pitted cherries in water pack)
1 ½ cups of sugar
¼ cup of cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of butter
½ teaspoon almond extract
⅓ cup of cherry brandy or cherry juice (the original recipe asks that you reserve the water pack from the canned cherries and use that for making the syrup you will pour over the cherries)
Preheat oven to 375*
Directions for crusts:
If using store bought pastry as I did, allow them to come to room temperature. Then line the bottom of one 9-inch pie plate with one of the crusts. Using a knife or pastry crimper, cut out about eight, thin strips of pie pastry and set aside.
Directions for syrup:
In a medium sized saucepan, add sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Gradually add the cherry brandy or cherry juice. Cook the liquid over a medium-high heat while continuing to stir. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling, remove from heat.
Stir in pitted cherries. (I made the mistake of keeping the cherries whole. It looks better but is much easier to eat if you slice the cherries in half). Add the butter, and almond extract to the cherries and stir well.
Fill the pastry lined pie plate with the cherry filling. Trim the excess pastry from the edges of the pie plate.
Begin weaving the lattice crusts over the filling. Place four to six strips of pastry across the top of the filling vertically. (It is easier to weave an even number of pastry strips than odd numbers of them).
Now, counting across, pull back the even numbered strips of pastry. Place a strip of pastry horizontally (across), the odd numbered strips of pastry. Now, pick up the even numbered strips of pastry and place them back over the filling.
With the odd numbered strips of pastry, pull them back and add a strip of pastry across the top of the even numbered strips of pastry. Then lift up the odd numbered strips and place them back over the filling. Continue this pattern until you have reached the top of the pie plate.
Optional: brush pastry strips with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes. You will want to cover the edges of the pie with foil to keep them from browning too soon. If you have a pie crusts shield, this works even better.
Bake on the lowest shelf of your oven to ensure the bottom crusts bakes to a golden brown and doesn’t become soggy.
I am willing to admit it…I am a city girl. I like convenience. However, I love the peace and quiet the country offers. Growing up in a fast, growing southern city made it difficult to hold on to the small pleasures my early years in a small town offered. The crafts, hobbies, and daily life activities I knew early on were not appreciated in the large city my family moved to in the late seventies.
Homemade Christmas ornaments, cakes baked from scratch, and running barefoot over patches of deep, cool grass in summer, were replaced with organized activities created by groups filling a gap once filled by two-parent homes. Not one of the kids I played with in the city were familar with hours spent with Mom baking cookies and cakes. No one knew the method of Wilton cake decorating, and anything homemade. Store bought was all they knew.
In my childish desire to “fit in,” I engaged in the same past-times of other kids. It wasn’t easy. Our country accented, one car, one income, do-it-yourself family was as foreign to them as their pointless need for designer jeans and and a place at the beach was to us.
That’s why when I came across a recipe for “sonker,” I was perplexed. Surry County Sonker, to be precise, was a recipe so regional and unique to the area of my anscestors, no one outside of Surry County, North Carolina had even heard of this special dessert.
“Mom? Ever heard of sonker?” I asked recently.
My mother perked up. “Oh yes, my mother used to make sonker,” she said cherrily. “It was good. She usually made it with whatever fruit we had leftover. Seems to me she used self-rising flour, sugar, and…”
No one knows with any certainty how sonker came about, or the origins of the name sonker. The most popular explanation is that it might be from a colloquiaism of sunk, as in the fruit sunk down at the bottom of the pan as the flour rose to the top, thus the fruit “sonked down.” As my mother explained to me, it was just a sort of pie, but not quite. It was a cobbler, but not exactly like a cobbler. It wasn’t cobbler. It wasn’t pie, it was just…sonker.
That is the legendary Sonker.
However it came to be, sonker was something put together by housewives and consisted of the fruits of summer, or autumn, or winter, just whatever was available at the time. My mother recalled how her mother whipped up a sonker for the fieldhands that planted and picked tobacco in the area. Her mother learned from her mother, and her mother from her mother, and so on. And the way your mother made sonker was the correct way to make sonker. It depended on what was available and what the busy women had time to work with in addition to their other chores.
My mother paused, her eyes gazed upward as the wheels of her memory spinned. “I think she used self-rising flour. I remember it had lots of juice and we always ate it with cream.”
It wasn’t long before we were both in the kitchen, gathering up ingredients as my mother talked her way through the memories of her mother’s recipe. I grabbed the sugar and the bag of peaches we had bought earlier in the week. Soon the stovetop was red hot and adding to the misery of a humid June day, as I scooped up the blueberries from their corner in the back of the refridgerator.
Steam billowed under the exhaust fan as we watched the fruit and sugar bubble and pop with thick juices. Mom stirred the fruit while I mixed the flour and milk together for the topping.
The result of our efforts was a deep dish filled with juicy fruit and the liquid filling every edge of the pan. The doughy top, baked brown and broken through by the lucious fruit underneath. It didn’t last long. We ate up our work with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“We never had money for ice cream,” my mother recalled. “Ice cream was a special treat for when we went into town on weekends. But we usually always had cream from the cow.”
Sonker was often served with a milk dip, as it was called. A sweet, thick liquid consisting of sugar, water, a little cornstarch for thickening, and a dab of vanilla.
Our afternoon making sonker lead me to ask my dad if he remembered sonker.
“Sonker pie!” He let out. “Oh yeah, my mother made sonker pie.”
Sonker pie, as he called it, was again made in a similar way as my mother’s mother, with self-rising flour, whatever fruit she could gather together, and lots of sugar. Always made for the folks out in the fields planting or harvesting a crop. For my anscestors, that meant corn, wheat, and of course, tobacco.
Today sonker seldom resembles the dessert my parents remember so fondly. Sonker on the internet and You Tube is dolled up with puff pastry or strips of rolled pastry dough with crimped edges, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is just not a true sonker. It isn’t true to our heritage, but so many people today, especially in America, want to replicate everything to fit everyone’s palate that our past is lost and forgotten.
Many immigrants have changed their native dishes to appeal to the masses and for good reason. They, like me so many years ago, wanted to fit in. And in doing so, they had to change what seemed odd to everyone else in order to survive, but we still need to hold on to what made us who we are. Homogenization is fine for milk, but not people.
I do feel grateful to live in a country with so many choices. American cuisine is a collection of everyone’s past from around the world. I think I would get bored eating the same foods everyday of the week. So if you would like to try something different, I hope you will give sonker a try. It is a part of my past I would like to share with everyone.
Recipe for Old-Fashioned Surry County Sonker and Milk Dip
1 stick of butter (a half cup)
Approximately 4 cups of fruit of your choice (whatever is available)
1 tsp. of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup of self-rising four (or leftover rolled out pastry dough, this is for placing on to of the fruit)
1 cup of whole milk
a pinch of salt
(1) Preheat your oven to 350*
(2) Melt the butter in a rectangle sized baking pan; one that has deep sides. Any deep edged pan or dish will do.
(3) In a heavy saucepan, add the fruit and 1 cup of sugar. Warm the fruit over medium heat until the fruit and sugar are hot and bubbly. Keep stirring or the fruit wil stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
(4) In a seperate bowl, mix together the rest of the sugar along with the cup of flour, milk, and vanilla.
(5) Pour the fruit into the prepared baking dish, then pour the batter over the top. Some people add the batter first, either way is fine. My mother’s mother added the fruit first.
(6) Bake in oven for at least 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
(7) Serve with milk dip, cream, or vanilla ice cream while sonker is hot.
For the Milk Dip, mix together 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla to taste over medium heat in a small pot. Add a bit of cornstarch for thickening. Stir until sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Pour over sonker and serve.