Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps, and Crumbles

I had no idea that there were so many variations of pie in the United States until I read this interesting New York Times piece:

A big, deep, soupy mess of warm fruit or soft sweet potato, the sonker was made to feed everyone who happened to be working at the farm on any given summer day. Like the many other players in the loose-knit team of dishes based on cooked fruit and bread, it began as a way to stretch fruit that was perhaps past its glory or make use of economical fillings like wild blackberries.

A big pan of sonker was easy to haul to the church supper or the event in the South known as the “covered dish.” It is less fussy than a traditional round pie, and easier to serve to a crowd.

At this point, the astute reader is probably thinking this sounds like a cobbler with a funny name. But what is a cobbler, really? Is it the freewheeling cousin of the crisp? The Southern answer to the thrifty New England brown Betty? A pan dowdy with integrity? A pie for lazy people?

If you are looking for clarity, I apologize. Unlike a classic pie, which everyone can pretty much agree on, the broader category of baked fruit desserts like cobblers and crisps is at once specific and general. These dishes are so regional that people within the same county will disagree on the proper form, but so accessible and varied in interpretation that no one has a lock. A proper cobbler (or a crisp or a Betty or a sonker) is what you grew up eating.

I’ll take a side of cobbler, sonker down, crumbling my way to food heaven, please.


Related: Wikipedia’s list of pies, tarts, and flans.

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