Grandpa's lunch in Paris, circa 1992
As you can see, I was well fed by the time I got to Paris. But fresh in my memory is the food of the 1940s, and 1950s. I loved the delicious food we made from farm-fresh produce, fruit, meat, butter, eggs, cheese, spices, and staples we bought at the original Indianapolis City Market, the farmer’s truck market, Lay’s Market, and various ethnic and European-style markets.
Throughout my childhood we bought groceries from independent stores, at stands in wonderful old buildings, and from the back ends of trucks full of fresh fruit and produce. I loved the autumn apple harvest, during which we went out to Marvin Norton’s orchard and picked big Jonathon and Golden Delicious apples from his special trees. Then we’d go into his barn and drink apple cider fresh from the press. Then too, his wife, Audrey Norton, would sell us pints of fresh cream.
Our favorite place to shop in my formative years was the original City Market. There is a new City Market in Indianapolis, but it’s not the same as the old market where the stands were operated by new immigrants in the European way. There was always an aroma of ripe vegetables and fruits, kosher delis, and exotic spices. Sometimes you can’t replace what’s gone. Thankfully, farmer’s markets offer a way to experience old traditions.
We generally had a little lunch at one of the remarkable City Market food stands that offered home-cooked European foods. Then we’d commence our shopping, starting with the fruit and produce stands. Mom’s heavy cloth shopping bags were near full by the time we headed to the meat stands.
We finished our shopping at Harry Simon’s farm-fresh butter and egg stand, where we’d shoot the breeze and buy Harry’s hand-paddled butter and just-laid eggs. Harry was a giant of an old German whose big hands worked hard at paddling the butter and scooping it into paper cartons. Then he’d wrap the carton up in butcher paper and tie a string around it just before you slid it into your shopping bag.
I loved watching immigrant stand-holders as they arranged fresh produce, creating displays that enticed you to stop and buy. How could you not stop at an entire table of fresh red-ripe strawberries carefully arranged in wood quart baskets? Beautiful arrangements of fresh red stalks of rhubarb positioned near the strawberries would have me salivating for a slice of Mom’s just-baked strawberry-rhubarb pie. “Yes, please put a dollop of French vanilla ice cream on top of my warm pie!”
I was first exposed to the old Indianapolis City Market during secret excursions with my Grandpa, William Obediah Pipes. Old folks in our family called him Willie. Dad called his father George just because that’s what he liked to call him. I called him Grandpa.
Grandma Pipes didn’t allow Grandpa to have pie because she said it was bad for his ulcers. But Grandpa and I didn’t let this get in our way. We’d sneak off and go to the City Market to get some anyway. Grandma rarely asked where we were headed, and Grandpa never offered the information. We’d just walk away from 2020 N. Harding Street, where I guess all of us lived at one point in time, and head toward 16th Street. There I’d look up at the beautiful ivy-covered brick walls of the original Victory Field, where the Indianapolis Indians played baseball. The Indians were then the Cleveland Indians farm team.
On our excursions, I often asked Grandpa if we could go to a game there. He generally answered, “I ‘spect son…but you know, if you were to stand behind one of those brick walls and catch a ball, you could then take it to the box office and get in for free. But maybe we could pay an admission one of these days and see a game together.” I ended up seeing a lot of regular and exhibition games there with some of the greatest ball players of the time.
“Let’s cross the street and catch an electric streetcar, Grandpa,” I’d say, looking forward to the ride. I already knew we’d be on our way to the City Market to have some homemade pie.
Printed with permission from Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society
Once at the market, we’d sit on low stools at a special stand, and a woman who seemed to know Grandpa would ask, “What kind o’ pie you boys want today?” We generally ate two pieces each before we rose from the stool to get a streetcar home. “This is just between us boys, son,” Grandpa would say as we climbed up the steps and found a seat on one of those great old public conveyances that operated from the power of overhead electric wires.
Grandpa Willie and my Great Grandma Margaret See (on Mom’s side of the family) nurtured within me the love of good food and the joy of eating. It was Great Grandma See who taught me to cook. I used to sit on a tall stool by her elbow and ask her questions as I watched her cook. She always patiently answered my questions as she encouraged me to cook.
Grandpa Willie’s wife, my Grandmother Mary McKeon Pipes, emigrated here from Scotland. She talked nonstop, it seemed, while she was sewing. I’d sit right next to her at her old machine as she made the prettiest aprons you ever saw, aprons that I’d go out and sell door-to-door for a dollar. That was a lot of money in the 1940s, but, when I’d open the box of Grandma’s aprons, housewives would start digging for their dollars. The apron box was always empty when I went back to the house and handed Grandma the money.
The radio would generally be playing softly in the background while she was sewing. Grandma and I would always pause our talking to listen to the world news as reported by Walter Winchell, Gabriel Heater, and Paul Harvey. (Years later, in Chicago, I was thrilled to run into Paul Harvey, on North Michigan Avenue.) I can still remember Winchell’s distinctive voice as he reported on the day’s events in the World War II. "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea, let's go to press."
Grandma often talked about the world news and her notions of how current events mirrored her understanding of prophecies written in the Bible. Before I heard of the coming of television, Grandma told me it was coming. Then she’d talk about her prophetic notion that television would be a powerful demon that would lead people to more sinning than we could imagine. Grandma prophesied there would be television ministers who would be fakes with a motive of grabbing people’s money and lining their pockets. She likened them to be foxes in sheep’s clothing.
Grandma told me of all this long before it became a reality. She was so smart she sometimes scared me.
ou will read a lot more about the good old days as you work your way through this cookbook and others that I’m writing. But before I serve up recipes of some of the great food we fixed when I was a boy, I want you to know this old boy is up to date and now fixing up some healthy lunches too.
et’s start with some healthy lunch recipes, because health seems to be on everyone’s mind nowadays. Stay tuned for my next post!