Elsie Olsen has no problem finding taste testers to try her latest baking creations.
When her husband isn't available, she turns to her son in South St. Paul. Failing that, she calls upon her three always-ravenous grandsons, who live a mile away from her home in Eagan.
Most of the time, they're more than happy to help Olsen polish off a pie, cookies or the occasional cake. After all, not everyone has an award-winning cook in the family.
Olsen, who lives with her husband at a serene home near , took home nine ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair this year for her baking—making her one of the most-honored Eagan residents at the fair this year.
Her awards included a first place in the "Ethnic Baking, Crisp Bread or Crackers" category, second place in two categories for her cookies, plus a handful of third- and fifth-place finishes.
Olsen got her start as a state fair baker several years ago, when she won a blue ribbon with a homemade blueberry pie. Each year since then, she spends several weeks each summer picking categories to enter, testing her baked creations on family and friends and perfecting her recipes with practice runs.
This year alone, Olsen participated in 19 separate contests—not that she keeps track of the numbers or ribbons. Olsen learned to cook by her mother's side as she grew up on a farm near Chippewa Falls, Wisc., sees baking as a light-hearted hobby, not a competitive endeavor.
Scandanavian recipes are Olsen's forte; her blue ribbon-winning dish this year was a Scandanavian rusk with a hint of orange zest. She is also the caretaker of a family recipe for a "Lazy Daisy Cake" originally made by the mother of her husband, Keith Olsen.
Keith generally avoids eating too many sweet foods for health reasons.
"She can set a lot of cookies out on the countertop, and they’re safe with me," said Keith, before adding that his resolve wavers when Olsen bakes a Lazy Daisy Cake.
For her part, Olsen jokes that her husband is a poor taste tester—especially when she's looking for constructive criticism.
"He always says they're perfect, they’re delicious, and I say, 'Come on, just help me,'" Olsen said, laughing.
Olsen says baking will always be close to her heart, no matter the number of state fair ribbons she earns.
"It’s just a hobby that I thoroughly enjoy doing," Olsen said. "If I get in a kitchen, and I focus on what I’m doing there, my other worries kind of leave."