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Winning pie tradition continues for Lowell woman

Stephanie Nichols Lowell shoes off slice her Best Show refrigerated cream pie with strawberries white chocolate drizzle. | Carrie Napoleon/For

Stephanie Nichols of Lowell shoes off a slice of her Best in Show refrigerated cream pie with strawberries and white chocolate drizzle. | Carrie Napoleon/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 7, 2014 6:10AM



CROWN POINT — Pie and Pepsi were on the menu Tuesday for Family Fun day at the Lake County Fair.

Bakers from around the region entered 21 different pies in the fair’s annual Pie Day competition, a fair tradition that has been going on longer than current Family Arts & Crafts building workers — who have been with the fair as long as 30 years — can remember.

Stephanie Nichols of Lowell walked away the big winner for the day, taking a blue ribbon in two of the five categories — refrigerated and berry — and walking away with the best-in-show ribbon for her refrigerated entry — a strawberry cream cheese with white chocolate. The winning berry entry was a blueberry strudel pie.

“We’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. I was in high school when I first started entering on my own,” Nichols said.

Her mother, Debbie, sparked the baking bug in Nichols and her sister Erin. The three women try to enter each category every year including the fruit and the all-encompassing miscellaneous category.

“It just became a family thing. Like mother, like daughter.”

There was no doubt in the secret judge’s mind which pie was best in show. After sampling and evaluating all 21, Nichols’ refrigerated pie was the one slice she could not put down.

While Nichols has entered every year, this is the first year the 26-year-old bride-to-be was baking on her own.

“It was challenging.”

Nichols realized she did not have a rolling pin and improvised with a glass. She also did not have a flour sifter, a baking must. The hardest part was getting used to her new baking space.

“I was just not in (Mom’s) kitchen,” Nichols said.

Betty Plumley took the blue ribbon in the fruit category — a mixed fruit pie — while Diane Witt took the blue ribbon in the miscellaneous category for her banana cream pie. Mary Ann Graden took a blue ribbon in the meringue category for her lemon meringue pie, the lone entry in that category.

Over in the Lion’s Club Shelter volunteers such as Steve Traficanti, 17, of Crown Point were busy crushing pop cans turned in for free-ride wristbands during the third annual Pepsi wristband day.

Traficanti has volunteered to work the booth for community service hours for school each year since the program started. He has crushed thousands and thousands of cans since he began. While the morning exchange starts out slow the stand starts hopping as it gets closer to noon when the rides open.

“Between 11 and 12 we get superbusy. We get so overwhelmed we need help,” he said.

Last year about 40,000 cans were exchanged for ride passes, according to Mike Steffan, who operates the program for the fair. The cans are recycled and the proceeds benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana. Last year Steffan said the exchange earned about $600 for the clubs.

“We fill a 12-foot U-Haul from top to bottom,” Steffan said.

Grandma Joan Schoon is one of the many people who take advantage of the Pepsi can exchange. This year Schoon had four of her six grandchildren in tow for family day, Abby and Nathan Hall, 5 and 4 respectively and Demonte, 5, and Camren, 3.

The youngsters dragged their black garbage bags filled with 150 pop cans to the booth and waited excitedly for their wristbands.

“We look forward to Pepsi day,” Schoon said. “We are very grateful.”

The grandmother said she likely would not be able to take all the grandchildren to the fair if she didn’t have the chance for the free ride wristbands.

“We pack a cooler lunch and I let them each get one treat. I’ve also brought $20 in quarters for the mouse game. They love the mouse game.”



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