When Karen Wagner was a young girl growing up in Leavenworth, she used to sit under a tree in her back yard and make mud pies topped with acorns.
These days she's moved on to tastier fare.
Wagner, 42, spends each morning baking fresh biscotti and scones for four Lawrence businesses, where she's built quite a following of loyal customers.
It's easy to gauge the popularity of Wagner's baked goods just watch how quickly they disappear from the places that sell them.
"People say, 'They're good, and when are you getting more?' They go fast," says Laurel Wimberg, manager of La Prima Tazza, 638 Mass.
The coffeehouse has carried Wagner's biscotti and scones for several years. Her products also are sold at Henry's, 11 E. Eighth St.; Classic Gourmet, 3300 W. 15th St.; and Z's Divine Espresso, 1800 E. 23rd St.
Wagner is gratified by the warm response to her baking, which has earned her a reputation.
"I come through the door with my (delivery) baskets and people that I don't know greet me: 'Are you the lady who bakes the scones? Are you the lady who bakes the biscotti?' They say I should become the next Mrs. Fields," Wagner says.
Thanks to these encounters, she's become widely known throughout town as "the Scone Lady."
Wagner enjoys the one-person baking business O&K; Kitchen she runs out of the state-inspected kitchen in her Lawrence home.
"It's relaxing, and I'm my own boss. But the most rewarding thing is the people, the customers. When people comment about my biscotti and scones, I just get a warm, fuzzy feeling," she says. "As long as there are biscotti and scone addicts, I'll never stop baking."
It was actually Wagner's husband, Orlin Wagner the "O" in O&K; Kitchen who started the business.
While a free-lance photographer in the early 1990s, he also worked part-time baking goods for a couple Lawrence coffeehouses.
"He paid off his student loans," Karen Wagner says.
She took over the business in 1998 when her husband became a staff photographer with The Associated Press in Kansas City, Mo.
Karen Wagner still uses the basic scone recipe her husband developed, baking three dozen scones each morning.
Her biscotti, made from a recipe she developed herself, are baked according to demand.
She puts no preservatives in her scones and biscotti, and uses ingredients produced in Kansas whenever possible.
The secret to successful baking lies in the equipment, Karen Wagner says.
"You've got to get a good oven," she says. "I have a GE Spectra convection oven with three racks and a fan in the back that distributes the heat evenly."
That oven regularly turns out biscotti that are pleasingly crunchy, not break-your-tooth hard, and tempting scones studded with moist chunks of fruit.
Her customers can't seem to get enough of them.
"People in line (at coffeehouses) are already ordering them while they're still in my basket," she says.