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Indy Eats! Indianapolis History Through Food

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A hundred years ago, people in Indianapolis were, like us, buying food, cooking and eating it, and often going to restaurants. Some of the products and places familiar to them are gone, but an exhibit at the central library captures this food history.

The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library created the display in the Nina Mason Pulliam Indianapolis Special Collections Room, located on the sixth floor, east side, of the central library. Through late spring, visitors can see examples of world-famous food products that originated in Indianapolis. Hurst’s 18 varieties of beans, as well as Stokely-VanCamp’s pork and beans and later Gatorade, are there. Wonder Bread, with its iconic balloons inspired by 500 Race pageantry, came from Indianapolis’ Taggart Bakery.

The Wright Marble cookbook collection, put together by a former steward at the Bates House and Dennison Hotel, includes Italian and Latin cookbooks from the 17th century, alongside cookbooks sponsored by Indianapolis businesses and organzations — Indy Serbs 500 Favorite Recipes and Great Tastes of Law from Barnes & Thornburg. Photographs recall grocery stores and markets while World War I posters with their simple but striking graphics urge Hoosiers to eat more “Wholesome, Nutritious Foods from Corn,” and save the wheat for our troops overseas.

My favorite display case held menus from the city’s most celebrated restaurants, such as St. Elmo’s. Had you dined at the Columbia Club on Feb. 12, 1910, you might have chosen a broiled live lobster (for $1.00), a T-bone steak (50 cents), or breast of mallard duck with currant jelly (75 cents). My choice would have been the broiled pork tenderloin with fried apples (50 cents) with Charlotte Russe (15 cents) for dessert.

Indy Eats! at the Indianapolis-Marion Co. Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair Street, Indianapolis, 317.275.4100.

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