- Associated Press - Saturday, August 23, 2014

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - Norm Bates, an 86-year-old resident of the Countryside Villas outside of Clifton, has found a unique niche. The former heavy equipment operator now is a blue ribbon-winning pie maker, a legend at the Iroquois, Kankakee and Will county fairs.

His awards hang on the door of his apartment these days, but the aroma of his kitchen creations are very familiar in this independent living facility, attached to the Presence St. Mary’s Merkle-Knipprath nursing home.

“My specialty is sweet potato pie,” he said. “I don’t bake my ‘Ho-Ho’ cake anymore. I don’t do cookies. But I still bake some bread and this pie keeps me pretty busy.”

He won a first- and second-place ribbon at the Iroquois competition and most recently at Kankakee. At the Will County Fair, he rated a purple ribbon for winning his division three years in a row.

“And if you want to know the secret, I’ll tell you,” he said with well-practiced grin. “It’s the topping. I’ll tell you what’s in it, but not the measurements. It’s melted butter, crushed corn flakes, chopped pecans and brown sugar. That’s all I can say. I mix it up and put it on by hand.”

And it’s not just the judges who love it. He takes orders around Thanksgiving and might make as many as 48 pies for friends, relatives and staff members. He sells those pies for $8, two dollars more than the ingredients cost him, and donates all of the money to the Merkle activities fund.

He’s been doing the three county fairs for about five years, and sees no reason to consider retirement.

“I still enjoy it,” he said. “But you have to realize: I’ve been cooking all my life. My wife (the late Greta) wasn’t very good in the kitchen. So when the church bake sale came along, she’d tell me and I’d bake. I cooked most of the meals when the kids were young. And I always did the baking.”

The Will County Fair opens Aug. 20, and Bates already has his calendar marked.

“I’ll do my shopping early because I have to boil and peel and mash the potatoes ahead of time,” he said. “Then I’ll bake the pie that night before, and drive it up that day. That fair is a little different: They only want one big piece of pie. But I take up the whole pie and let the volunteers enjoy the rest.”

With a small oven, Bates still manages to bake four pies at a time. His limited cupboard space is filled with mixing bowls and the pantry is stock with pie-making foods. But there is a chink in his armor.

“I’ve tried and tried to learn how to make a good crust, but I can’t do it,” he admitted. “You can tell them I used the store-bought kind.”


Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, https://bit.ly/1pBlVtX


Information from: The Daily Journal, https://www.daily-journal.com

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