My father grew up outside of Omaha, Nebraska. His birthday is this week and I’ve been looking for something special for him.
One of the things he reminisces about from his childhood is having tomato preserves on toast. I know that sounds odd, but since tomatoes are technically a fruit, they can be cooked into a sweetened preserve too. But as you might have guessed, it’s hard to find. In fact, I’ve only seen it in stores twice in my life. I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen it.
Having exhausted my list of potential locations to find tomato preserves in Minneapolis, I headed to Fridley to see what I could find there. BoB’s Produce Ranch, just a mile or so north of 694 on University Avenue, is an old-fashioned deli, bakery and meat market.
Bob Schroer started the business as a seasonal roadside stand in 1959. He sold locally grown fruits and vegetables to nearby customers.
Bob thought having the second “B” uppercase made the name distinctive. The “o” is often an apple. His different approach to marketing and merchandising helped make the company flourish. It moved from a stand to a store, then expanded twice.
There’s also a large sit-down seating area filled with historic photos that’s popular during lunch. Bob passed away nine years ago but his son, a nephew, and a longtime friend own the business today.
As I pulled up to the store I was welcomed by a rickety old farm wagon and colorful hand-lettered signs promoting homegrown carrots, organic sweet potatoes and Minnesota honeycrisps. The store isn’t very big. In fact it’s more convenience store sized than a supermarket. But they pack it in. And it feels like an indoor farmers market.
Colorful squash, gigantic heads of cabbage and every other typical fruit and vegetable are displayed in tightly packed rows or overflowing bins. They have the largest (and neatest) assortment of apples that are as beautiful as an orchard’s prized display.
Bread loaves, muffins, banana bread, cookies, pies and the quintessential pumpkin and carrot bars are baked on site. They have the best folded date cookies I’ve had since my grandmother made them.
Bulk nut bins are brimming with peanuts, whole walnuts and a holiday mix. Long deli and meat cases are filled with sandwiches, salads, meat of all cuts and their signature items: supreme potato salad, fried chicken, lasagna and meatloaf. A nearby refrigerated case is filled with numerous styles of herring and lefse from three different makers!
Minnesota-made products are sprinkled throughout the store and also displayed in their own dedicated section. Steak seasonings from Jax and Murray’s, bread mixes from Red Wing, frozen pizza from Askov, Creamette Pasta, Old Dutch Potato Chips and Nut Goodies. You can order these online as gifts too and have BoB’s ship them for you.
BoB’s Produce Ranch also had their own private-label salad dressings and jams. Bingo! I had arrived at my destination. I looked over the vast assortment: strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, cherry, peach, raspberry, cranberry, apricot, Meyer lemon, fig, mint, sweet potato, apple butter and pumpkin butter. I looked again. No tomato. So I asked the clerk. She said, “Do you mean tomato paste?”
I said, “No, preserves, it’s like a jam.”
We looked together. Then we looked in another location. Then we looked in another one. She offered to try and order some for me. But then I spotted BoB’s own bread pudding. It’s Dad’s other favorite.
This’ll do. Happy birthday Dad!
BoB’s salad bar and homemade soups make for a quick stop for lunch on site. Save room for dessert.
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Remember to send me your list of where you bring out of town guests. I’m making a tour map that’ll include architecture, museums, parks, historic sites, public art, stores, restaurants, breweries, art studios or any favorite places readers take their visitors. It will be my holiday gift to you and your guests! Write to WeekendTourist@MNPubs.com