Blue Ribbon Backstories

Maple Grove residents share stories of blue ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair.
Henrik Kro on the award-winning knit blanket.

Thousands of people flock to the Great Minnesota Get-Together each year to experience the variety of foods, entertainment and shopping. Minnesota State Fair blue ribbon winners Robin and Wayne Estenson and Elizabeth Kro not only go for the food and fun—they go to win. These Maple Grove residents have been entering items in the fair for many years, and each walked away from last year’s fair with a blue ribbon.

Robin Estenson has been making canned products for more than 35 years, and Wayne joined in the fun when they met. They own blue ribbons for pickles, pickled beets, bread and butter pickles and, more recently, their barbeque sauce. “We started making barbeque sauce five years ago,” Wayne says. The duo tested the sauce with their neighbors and family until they believed they had a winner.

“The judges said that it was a family friendly barbeque sauce because there isn’t a lot of heat to it and it has a great taste,” Wayne says.

Robin and Wayne have continued the family tradition by teaching their eight- and ten-year-old grandchildren how to can foods. They start by picking out the freshest ingredients at the Minneapolis or Maple Grove Farmers Market.

Now in retirement, the two are able to can any day of the week. Wayne also likes to grill often in the summer to test out the barbeque sauces on their neighbors. “When the neighborhood knows I’m making ribs, they flock over here,” Wayne says. The Estensons plan on selling Uncle Wayne’s Blue Ribbon BBQ Sauce at the Maple Grove Farmers Market in the future.

Elizabeth Kro has been entering the Minnesota State Fair in the knitting category for eight years, since her friend encouraged her to compete. Kro has been knitting since she was in college at the University of Minnesota. She won a blue ribbon last year for a blanket she made for her son Henrik, who is two. She knit the blanket while she was pregnant, but entered it in the fair just last year because she wanted to finish taking Henrik’s 12-month baby pictures with it.

“It took me three months and I finished it 12 days before he was born. I think the timeline was a little influenced by the ‘this sounds like a good idea to make in my third trimester’ pregnancy hormones, but it all worked out,” Kro says.

Kro found the winning pattern of an alligator with a striped background from a baby blanket book. The pattern is called “Googly Eyed Gator,” but Kro made some changes to fit her almost newborn son’s needs. She modified the knit along the border to match her personal tastes and used felt for the pupils instead of buttons. Kro says she will continue to knit for her son for as long as he will let her.

Both the Estensons and Kro plan on entering the fair again this year. Robin and Wayne have been creating a mango barbeque sauce they hope will please the judges, and Kro is currently knitting a sweater for her son that she plans to enter, if she finishes it in time.

Expert Advice: How to win at the State Fair

Wayne Estenson: “Experiment, then let people taste, because it is very subjective.” Robin and Wayne agree that when creating a sauce or canned product you should recognize that people have different tastes. Some people like sauces spicy or mild, but overall, you should create what you want.

Elizabeth Kro: “It’s fun to hear what the judges say and it’s a kick to see what you have at the fair. Last summer, I kept getting pictures of the blanket from my family and co-workers.” To win, you first need the courage to enter.