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Cottage Grove woman looks to cash in on State Fair apple butter win

Michelle Roberts won a blue ribbon last month at the Minnesota State Fair for her apple butter. It was her first State Fair contest and she is exploring ways to produce and distribute her apple butter. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Michelle Roberts experimented with an apple butter recipe for a few years, finally settling on a blend of ingredients that landed her fruit spread a blue ribbon at this year's Minnesota State Fair.

Fresh off that win, Roberts now is exploring how to turn that prize-winning treat into a small business success.

Roberts, a Cottage Grove resident, took first place out of 17 statewide entries in the apple butter category last month. It was her first time entering something in the canning competition, and she nearly did not compete.

A Kansas native, she was nervous about competing at the Minnesota State Fair.

"I know how the traditions up here on the Fair are so important to people, so I was intimidated," she said.

Apple butter simply is a reduction of apples and spices. It should spread like butter, but Roberts said many people are surprised to learn it does not contain butter.

So what's the secret to a tasty mixture?

"I can't tell you that," joked Roberts, who has locked her apple butter recipe in a bank safe.

Roberts grew up in Kansas and her father taught her how to can vegetables and fruit.

"Apple butter was pretty standard in our house," she recalled, but there was no written family recipe. "I just started canning like four years ago and I thought, wow, how did Dad make that? I just started experimenting and finally got it right."

After picking up her prize-winning jar and ribbon at the fairgrounds, Roberts has decided to pursue distribution of her apple butter. She has contacted commercial kitchens that allow people to rent time and space, and has someone designing jar labels for her.

It would not be unheard of for a blue ribbon recipient to market the prize-winning goods, but State Fair officials said they do not track the number of past winners who've successfully sold their product. Marketing a winner requires careful wording: a product not endorsed by the fair cannot be sold as a Minnesota State Fair winner, officials said, though promoting is as a state fair blue ribbon may pass legal muster.

In addition to exploring ways to market her apple butter, Roberts said she already is working on a different treat to enter for judging at the 2012 State Fair: white peach and lavender jelly, using lavender grown at her home.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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