Landscape & Hardscape Ideas, Lifestyle & Seasonal

Sweet Mid-Atlantic states: potluck desserts from NC to NY

Every family has that one dessert that disappears first from the patio table. The favorites are often eaten before the burgers are served. But what is sweet in one state can be an unknown in another. Here are some interesting desserts from North Carolina to New York.

North Carolina

Sonker is a rectangular, deep dish pie made from almost any kind of fruit, like blueberries or peaches, or veggies, like rhubarb or sweet potato. Sometimes sonker is also called cobbler or grunt or slump. Sweet potato sonker is served with a cinnamon or allspice dipping sauce made of milk and vanilla extract. Sonker’s crust can be on the bottom only, on the sides and the bottom, or, strangely enough poured on top to sink down into the pie (“sunk” is perhaps the origin of the original name of the dessert). One thing is for sure: no two sonker pies will be alike. The recipes vary widely within The Tar Heel State’s Appalachian regions.


Buttermilk chess pie reflects the hearty make-do attitude of the stalwart residents of Virginia. Also known as “pantry pie,” chess pie is made from buttermilk (which you can make with milk and a bit of vinegar), eggs, flour, and sugar, which are the basic ingredients in any pantry. When you get word that grandma’s coming around that Old Dominion State’s mountain, you can whip together a chess pie without a trip to the market.


Peach pie isn’t just for Georgians. Peaches have been an agricultural mainstay for the First State since the first European settlers put down roots. In 2009 students in a Dover elementary school lobbied for peach pie to be adopted as the official dessert of Delaware, and they succeeded. August 24 is National Peach Pie Day and Delaware knows just what to do. Check out the very big 2018 Middletown Peach Fest on August 18.


Snowballs are Baltimore’s summer staple. Shaved ice (not too fine, not too coarse) is packed in a styrofoam cup, flavored with a sweet syrup  and then a topping of choice crowns the concoction. For professional snowball connoisseurs, a marshmallow custard inserted in the middle of the snowball is the pièce de résistance. You can try to attempt your own snowballs by bringing a snow cone maker, flavorings, toppings and some marshmallow custard to your next picnic.



Shoo-fly pie is basically a heap of molasses in a crust. Obviously such a dessert would be attractive to flying insects, hence its name. A staple in Amish society, shoo-fly pie has spread its wings from the Lancaster area to the entire southeast region of the Keystone State. Another Pennsylvania Dutch dessert that is found all over the state is a Whoopie pie, a cakey cookie sandwich with a cream center. Tasting either dessert will have you thanking the German and Swiss settlers of 1700s central PA.

New Jersey

Blue water, blue skies and blueberry pie is any New Jersey resident’s perfect day. The beautiful blueberry is the Garden State’s official fruit, and it gets the VIP treatment in diners across the state. Head out to one of the many pick-your-own blueberry farms for a few hours of harvesting your own main ingredient, or simply buy one of the many pies baked fresh daily on site. Your teeth may end up purple but your tastebuds will be pleased.

New York

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” is the iconic line from The Godfather everyone knows. But not everyone knows the joy that is a cannoli, the most iconic dessert of The Empire State. This Italian treat, a crispy roll of dough filled with a ricotta cheese cream that balances savory and sweet, is the subject of cultural wars that reach from NYC to Philadelphia. Every bakery has their own secret recipe and loyalists will go to great lengths defend their suppliers. A Google search on “best cannoli in NYC” brings up 756,000 results. Ask a local for recommendations, or better yet, start a tasting tour.

Whatever your sweet tooth prefers, any of these desserts would be a lovely addition to your next picnic. Grab a good recipe or bakery and surprise your hosts with an iconic gift to savor.

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