This story originally appeared in Home Grown Magazine, a special supplement to The Robesonian.
PEMBROKE — Connie Locklear says that there are no special ingredients in her jellies and jams.
The secret is in the technique — she says making the treats by hand is what makes them just a little bit sweeter.
“Most everything I do is homegrown,” she said, boiling blackberries on her stove top for one of her most popular jams. “If it isn’t, well, it takes the personality out of it.”
Locklear lives on Alvin Road in Pembroke on a farm that has been owned by her husband’s family for several generations. The farm grows licorice and lemon-flavored herbs, red hot cayenne peppers, and bushel upon bushel of blackberries — all ingredients that Locklear uses to make her jams and jellies.
But living on a farm and living off the land didn’t just start after her marriage. In fact, Locklear grew up on a farm with 12 other siblings, watching her mother and her grandmother “stir a pot” to feed her entire family.
“With 13 kids in a family, you learn to cut out your little piece of the world, and this is mine,” she said while straining the berries.
Locklear grew up on a farm in a military family, so marrying her husband and moving to New Ground Farm was not too much of an adjustment. After moving to her husband’s farm, Locklear worked at a factory for a couple of years then became a deputy at the courthouse.
But Locklear began to notice a change in her youngest son, Elijah. With her and her husband working long hours, Elijah was staying at school for 10 hours a day or more. After talking to her husband, Locklear decided to become a stay-at-home mom so she could encourage Elijah and help him with his school work when he got home.
So Locklear got creative to help supplement her family’s income and started making pottery, jelly and jam.
“That’s when my husband’s mother fell sick,” she said, replacing the bright purple berry juice into the pot.
Her mother-in-law, who also lived on the farm, was diagnosed with cancer. Locklear took care of her for months until she died. Locklear felt empty — like she needed something to do and someone to care for.
After substitute teaching for some of the local schools, Locklear said that she sat at the central office of the Public Schools of Robeson County for three days and demanded that they find a position for her. She has been a teacher assistant for six classes at Deep Branch Elementary School during the last few years.
“School is never boring, it’s always different every day. And, on the farm, it’s basically the same. Each season brings different things,” she said, adding ingredients to the pot.
She said that it was never easy growing up on a farm and even living on one as an adult. She remembers having one Sunday dress and one pair of Sunday shoes for most of her life.
Growing up on a farm taught her about hard work. As a child, Locklear’s father had to be creative with making money and providing food for their family.
“A lot of the things that I do come out of necessity,” she said, pouring sugar into the pot and watching it boil.
Hard work and determination have allowed Locklear and her family to really commit to their farm and her Connie’s Country Creations business. Locklear’s work space is her kitchen — a black and white-tiled floor caged between bright wooden cabinets that sets the mood for her jelly-making mojo.
Connie’s state-approved kitchen, designed for selling her jellies, has a separate area for storing her jam and jelly and several different appliances equipped for food handling. Her nearly-pristine counter tops also put her in good standing with the state’s kitchen sanitary conditions.
As her sweet mixture boiled on the stove, Connie says her favorite jelly to eat is Rose Hip, though she generally doesn’t sell that to the public. Rose Hip jelly contains a lot of Vitamin C — more than the average Joe’s stomach could probably handle. Her favorite jellies to make are pear and corn cob jelly, which experienced canners say tastes like honey. When Locklear makes the corn cob jelly, she boils the cobs and use as the liquid in the jelly recipe.
Her American Indian heritage will never let her forget about the blessings of homegrown and homemade food and medicine. She said that she wants to leave behind a legacy for her grandson and granddaughter to carry on when she is gone.
“I am preparing knowledge for the next generation,” she said, filling mason jars with the piping hot jelly. “How can we know where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been?” She sits the glass jars in a large pot with some water and put the heat on low to tightly seal the mason jars and keep the jelly fresh and sweet.
Locklear sells her jelly for $6 a pint and $5 for a specially-made half pint with custom combinations like jalapeno-pear jelly. She also sells homemade pepper jelly for $5. Locklear also creates herbal medicines from her herb garden, homemade soap, syrup and tea.
To order some of Connie’s Country Creations, call New Ground Farm at 910-521-1768.
Connie Locklear’s Blackberry Jam
3 3/4 cup blackberry puree
4 1/2 cups of sugar
6 tbs of Sure Jell
1 pat of butter
Mason jars and lids
Step 1: Crush the berries in a large pot or in a food processor.
Step 2: Strain the berries to remove the seeds.
Step 3: Place the berry juice into the pot and add in the butter and Sure Jell. Mix on low heat until it comes to a continuous boil. When it boils, add the sugar.
Step 4: Test if the mixture is jelling by placing it on a plate. Move the plate around. If the jelly doesn’t move much, it’s ready to be jarred.
Step 5: Pour the mixture into mason jars.
Step 6: Seal the mason jar with the top.
Process the jelly jars in a hot water bath for 10 to 15 minutes. You should hear a popping sound. That sound indicates that the jar is sealed.
Connie Locklear says the secret to her delicious jams, part of her Connie’s Country Creations business, is making the treats entirely by hand.