Sweet memories: Apple Works baker looks back on his long career

Inside the Apple Works bakery, recipes for all things apple are prized possessions.

People come to the southern Johnson County institution for the apple dumplings, Dutch apple bars, and apple fritters.

Above all, they come to Apple Works for what has been named the best pie in the state of Hoosier: their signature apple pie.

For longtime head baker Janis Cooper, her time at Apple Works was a different kind of recipe — for a happy life.

“Working here is so important to me. We have customers who will really stick their heads in the kitchen and thank us for the things we cook,” she said.

Cooper retired from Apple Works on October 31, concluding 28 years of service at the orchard and bakery. Throughout her final day, her friends and family stopped by to wish her well, share a cake and write about how much she meant to them over the years.

His contributions over the years have been countless and irreplaceable, said Sarah Brown, owner of Apple Works. But she also left a solid foundation from which the bakery will continue to thrive for years to come.

“We owe her a debt of gratitude because she helped build this business and its reputation,” Brown said. “But she was also a great trainer and trained the rest of the staff very well, who will continue their dedication to quality.”

Cooper started working at Apple Works after a family visit nearly 30 years ago. His eldest son was so delighted with the orchard that he asked Brown if he could work there part-time, helping with apple picking and other chores.

After dropping it off and picking it up every day, Cooper got to know the Apple Works team. Brown eventually offered her a job.

“She said, you have to be here,” she said. “I did a bit of everything: picking apples, bagging strawberries, baking. Cooking was the longest thing.

A lifelong baker, Cooper felt right at home in the orchard kitchen. But when she started working at Apple Works, there was no bakery.

The idea of ​​a kitchen was born in 2005, as an additional attraction to the orchard. The following year, a devastating hailstorm left the apple crop in disrepair; although the fruit had scarred on the trees, the appearance of the apples made them unacceptable for sale on their own.

Plans for the kitchen were accelerated, simply as a solution to the damaged crop, Brown said.

“We soon learned that diversification was key for an apple orchard, because you were looking at frosts, hail, high winds, drought, all the things you couldn’t control,” she said. “So diversification with cooking has been a big part of our business.”

Cooper’s efforts were integral to the launch of the kitchen.

“If you lined up all the pies she made crust to crust, they would go all the way to Trafalgar and maybe further,” Brown said. “Twenty-eight is a long time to make pies.”

Over the years, Cooper has dabbled in all sorts of recipes and dishes, from apple cake to fruit oat bars. But nothing topped apple pies.

The pinnacle of the bakery came in 2012, when Apple Works Apple Pie was named the best pie in the state by Hoosiers and visitors to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development website.

Made with a blend of four varieties of sweet and tart apples, cut into bite-size pieces for the base. Cinnamon and sugar help round out the filling, while a closely guarded secret recipe crust ties it all together.

“They’re the best around,” Cooper said.

With four young grandchildren, Cooper is confident she will find ways to occupy her time now that she is retired. Still, leaving the place where she stayed for so long was a difficult decision.

She’ll miss the seven-day-a-week hustle and bustle that happens every September and October at the orchard, and seeing all the families who come to Apple Works to create memories, pick pumpkins, and grab a treat for the House. . The opportunity to see the excitement of local school kids going out on field trips is also one of his favorite parts of the job.

But Cooper lives a few miles away and knows she can always stop by to see her second family whenever she wants.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” she said. “I couldn’t do everything myself; I just had an awesome cooking band that I had to have with me. They did a fantastic job and they will continue. »

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