“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” — Carl Sagan
Gold may have put Julian on the map, but today, Julian’s treasure is apple pie. As Julian’s gold rush waned, an enterprising widower brought a wagon of apples to Julian, finding the soil, elevation, and temperatures ideal for growing apples. By the 1890s, Julian was proclaimed the “greatest apple belt in the world.”
Another entrepreneurial spirit came 80 years later: Liz Smothers.
Apple pies were the center of her universe. As a little girl in Kansas, she would stand on a box in her mother’s kitchen proudly making her own pies from the leftover dough as her mother baked. “If I had not had that experience, I would never be in the pie business,” Liz said.
In the 1980s, Liz and her family relocated to Julian from Alabama. It didn’t take long to realize that despite Julian’s many apple orchards, no one was making pies like her mother’s.
Working at local shops and bakeries further kindled Liz’s pie- making dreams. But she wanted to do it on her own using her family recipe. In September 1986, at age 53, Liz pioneered the Julian Pie Company. In 1989, she and her husband Keith purchased an apple farm and planted 17,000 trees. Julian Pie Company became a family venture—the epitome of the American dream. The demand for Liz’s pies grew by leaps and bounds, but because Julian’s apple season lasts two months, the only way to meet growing demand was to begin sourcing quality apples from Oregon and Washington.
Her first pie shop opened in downtown Julian. The original apple pie was soon joined by Dutch apple, boysenberry apple, and other fruity pies that all became an integral part of the menu. The pies became such a hot commodity the business grew into wholesale production and Liz had to open a second, more spacious location. Her Santa Ysabel store continues to be the center of operations for baking, transporting, and shipping. Liz once admitted, “I never thought about how much money I’d make. I just wanted to make a good apple pie that would capture the true essence of the small mountain town of Julian.”
Thirty-six years later, the original apple pie recipe Liz learned from her mother remains unchanged. Quality control is always on the company’s forefront, ensuring that each award-winning pie leaving the oven is exactly the same. Having devoted long-term employees has been a tremendous added benefit. Sadly, Liz passed away in May this year. Her son Tim, who worked at the counter as a teenager and has always been a part of the business, carries on his mother’s legacy. Tim describes her as “nurturing, loving, humble, and trusting—but one serious businesswoman.”
Many believe the secret ingredient to Liz Smothers’ Julian Pie Company is her family’s original recipe, but we discovered the secret ingredient is love—for her family, her community, and her pies.
Julian's True Treasure originally published in the fall 2022 issue.
Hosting Sunday dinners for the family was one of Liz's favorite weekly events. The Smothers' family shares their favorite recipes for Sumi Salad and Cheese Biscuits.