Laura Dean Bennett
Anne Walker, of Hillsboro, is getting a well-deserved reputation as the purveyor of delightfully unique jellies made from Pocahontas County flora.
I first became acquainted with Walker’s collection of homemade floral jellies at the Wild Edibles Festival at Watoga State Park a couple of years ago.
The little jelly jars were sweet inside and out – a delight to the sight, smell and taste.
They glistened with a palette of pastel colors and had unusual names like Spring Violet, Red Bud, Dandelion, Lilac, Black Locust and Honeysuckle.
Some had more ordinary names like Blackberry and Red Raspberry.
Bedecking confections and baked goods with the graceful beauty and delicate flavors of edible flowers and blossoms goes back a long way.
It was popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was the height of culinary fashion during the Victorian era in England and Europe.
Foods began to be preserved in glass jars at the turn of 19th century and the pages of culinary history turned.
Wherever and whenever there was enough sugar for such an extravagance, everything sweet and edible – fruits, berries, flowers and tree blossoms – began to be preserved as jams and jellies.
Many of our great-great-grandmothers here in the mountains enjoyed gathering the blossoms of spring and summer to preserve their sweetness for their winter tables.
Walker grew up as a farm girl in Hampshire County – in Pleasant Dale – near Augusta.
She’s proud of her work in 4-H and FFA, having spent “nine or ten years raising hogs” for her projects.
Her interest in agriculture and farming led her to West Virginia University where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Agronomy Soil Science and a Master’s in Agricultural Education.
After graduation, she put those degrees to good use working for the Farm Services Agency in Monroe and Greenbrier counties.
Anne married Pocahontas County native, Sam Walker in 2002, and they set up housekeeping across the road from his parents’ home in Hillsboro.
Sam is the IT director at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.
The Walkers have two children – 15 year old Hayden, a freshman in Pocahontas County High School, and 11 year old Sherry, a fifth grader at Hillsboro Elementary School.
Little did Walker know when she was getting her agricultural degrees at WVU that she would, one day, be harvesting edible flora.
“I got the idea for making jelly from flowers and things that grow around here from my mother-in-law, Wilma Ann Walker,” Walker explained. “She had a great recipe for violet jelly, and years ago, she started me making it.
“When my kids were young, we’d go with Wilma to pick violets in Mason jars.
“Back then, home canned foods weren’t being sold out in places like they are now,” Walker continued.
West Virginia’s cottage industry laws have changed, making a more favorable climate for entrepreneurial food enterprises like Walker’s, hence the popularity of the local food movement, with homemade foods becoming a staple at our farmers markets and festivals.
“I got the idea of selling these floral jellies, and it’s just taken off.”
Besides the 4th Avenue Gallery and the Wild Edibles Festival, Walker’s floral jellies have been sold during Pioneer Days, the Autumn Harvest Festival and at the Cranberry Shindig and farther afield at the West Virginia Maple Festival in Pickens.
The floral jellies are practically irresistible – simultaneously evoking visions of picking blossoms on a soft spring day in the mountains and the old-time heritage of harvesting everything that nature provides.
“My most popular jellies are dandelion, spring violet, red bud, lilac, honeysuckle and black locust,” Walker said, after a little thought.
All of the blossoms for Walker’s jellies grow right there in her yard or the nearby woods and fields.
“I pick flowers by the quart jar-full to make my jellies,” she said.
“When they are ready to pick, it just takes some time and patience to get them all.
“I pick the flowers and then when the berries come on, I pick blackberries, raspberries and black raspberries, too.
“When it’s time for blueberries, I pick about ten to fifteen gallons of blueberries at a time.”
“Sometimes my daughter, Sherry, helps me. She’s pretty good help, although she’s young, so sometimes she loses focus.
“We don’t call her Fairy Diddle for nothing,” she laughed, fondly.
“I can’t make black locust jelly every year because sometimes we have a late freeze when the black locust trees are hanging heavy with blossoms and they get frozen out,” Walker explained.
“That’s what happened last year.
“When the blossoms are in season, the kitchen counters are covered with jars of flowers, and it smells heavenly,” Walker said, smiling.
“The first step is to make a tea of the blossoms.
“It’s a juice made just like you’d make tea,” she explained.
“I cover the blossoms with boiling water and let them steep for about 24 hours.
“Then I strain off the blossoms and freeze the tea – or the juice – until I’m ready to use it.
“I usually make jelly in the winter when I have a little more time to do it,” she added.
Besides making her signature floral and berry jellies and jams, Walker also sews.
She came from a family background of women who were handy with needle, thread and yarn.
Her grandmother grew up in a family of 10 girls who all sewed and were crafty, so she was an excellent seamstress.
Walker’s mom, Barbara Ann Perry, was accomplished in crochet and knitting and her great-aunt Mary made beautiful hand-sewn quilts, restored quilts and excelled at candlewicking and crochet-beading.
Walker’s sewing tends to the utilitarian.
She makes coasters and seven-inch by seven-inch mid-size placemats that she calls “mug rugs,” a variety of which are on display at the 4th Avenue Gallery.
“They’re just the right size to hold a cup and a breakfast pastry,” Walker said.
She also makes potholder-topped kitchen towels; and then there are her most popular items – her aprons.
“I guess my most requested items are the aprons,” she said, nodding.
“They are reversible.
“They’re double-sided, with a different fabric on each side, but the two sides are of complimentary colors and patterns.”
Walker’s daughter, Sherry, likes sewing, too, but she does all her sewing by hand.
“She doesn’t use the sewing machine,” Walker said.
“Sherry’s been making masks for friends and she’s made clothes for her stuffed animals,” Walker said, proudly.
Walker remembers beginning her own sewing career in the ninth grade when she made a baby quilt for her history class project but it wasn’t until many years later that she got “serious” about sewing.
“I started sewing things to sell after I made my first diaper bag.
“I’d bought a diaper bag at Walmart and it fell apart the first week I had it, so I made a really nice one for myself.
“I got so many compliments on it that I decided to make some as gifts for friends and family members.
“After that, I started making them to sell,” she said.
“It’s fun being crafty.
“I like the independence of having my own business – making my own schedule,” Walker said. “And it’s a good way to supplement our family income.
“My jellies and the sewing have turned into a bigger business than I expected.
“I’ve been very fortunate.
“People like what I’m doing, and it’s great because it’s something that I enjoy so much,” she added.
Customers can always find Walkers jellies and sewn creations at the 4th Avenue Gallery in Marlinton and she takes on special commissions, as well.
Visit Walker’s Facebook page: Little Levels Homespun Treasures, email her at email@example.com or call her at 304-653-8879.
At the end of May, Walker will be opening her new shop, Handmade West Virginia, on Rt. 219 on Droop Mountain, near Tom’s Barbershop.