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A glimpse at local history through the lens of restaurants and pudding

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

HILARY FLECK: It's really fun to look at those [LAUGHS] and see the prices and how prices of things change. One of the menus had a prime rib steak or something that was $2.50 and so, you're, like, "Dang. If only I could get that today."

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, we talk with Hilary Fleck, curator of the order up exhibit on the history of local restaurants at the Monroe County History Center and we have a persimmon pudding recipe with a history of its own. All that and more is just ahead in the next hour, so stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. Daniella Richardson is here this week with updates from Harvest Public Media. Welcome, Daniella.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Hi, Kayte. It's good to be here. About 750 buffalo raised in preserves throughout the Midwest will travel across the country to tribal lands. As Harvest Public Media's Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco reports, it's part of an indigenous-led effort to restore the once-endangered species.

JUANPABLO RAMIREZ-FRANCO: At the Nature Conservancy's Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois, a field crew of scientists are tagging, swabbing and preparing some 30 buffalo to be transported to three different indigenous nations. Restoration ecologist Elizabeth Buck calls the buffalo a "keystone species."

ELIZABETH BUCK: And we see evidence of the shedded fur in the spring that birds will actually use in their nest to help keep them warm. So, they're impacting all species across all trophic levels on the prairie ecosystem.

JUANPABLO RAMIREZ-FRANCO: This is part of the InterTribal Buffalo Council's 30-year effort to re-home buffalo to tribal management. So far, 20,000 buffalo have gone to 79 tribes. For Harvest Public Media, I'm Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: A class action lawsuit against the US Government on behalf of Black and Brown farmers was announced in October. As Harvest Public Media's Eva Tesfaye reports, the suit alleges that the Government broke its promise of debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers.

EVA TESFAYE: The American Rescue Act Plan promised $4 billion of debt relief to farmers of color by the US Department of Agriculture. That relief was stalled by lawsuits from multiple banks and White farmers. The Inflation Reduction Act passed this August repealed that legislation and replaced it with relief mostly for economically distressed farmers of any race. Many farmers of color might not receive that money anymore, says Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney that filed the suit.

BEN CRUMP: The Black and Brown farmers relied on the promise from the Government where there are several farmers facing foreclosure.

EVA TESFAYE: A USDA spokesperson said without the Inflation Reduction Act funding, the debt relief would have been tied up in court for years. For Harvest Public Media, I'm Eva Tesfaye.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Thanks to Harvest Public Media's Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco and Eva Tesfaye for those reports. For Earth Eats, I'm Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG: Hays has become sort of the California of Kansas: a place where people don't flush a toilet, linger in the shower, or tend to a lawn without thinking about how much water they're using. It's an outlier in the Great Plains in Midwest now. But as climate change intensifies droughts, more cities here might have to embrace a similar conservation sensibility. David Condos of the Kansas News Service reports.

DAVID CONDOS: It's Thursday night at a street fair in Hays. Some kids line up to see the fire engine or eat pizza. Others run over to get their moment with a big blue local celebrity.

FEMALE: You want to go say hi to that big old water drop? Go say hi to it.


DAVID CONDOS: That's WaterSmart Wally, a five foot tall raindrop, the mascot for the city's water conservation program.

FEMALE: We saw you as soon as we came in. It's the blue drop.

DAVID CONDOS: Wally gets around. Parades, festivals, classrooms.

HOLLY DICKMAN: Kids love him. He loves hugs. [LAUGHS] So, he gets lots of those.

DAVID CONDOS: Holly Dickman is the city's water conservation specialist and as far as she knows, she and Wally are the only ones doing their particular jobs in the whole state. Saving water is just part of life in this northwest Kansas town of about 20,000 people. And it starts from an early age. It's not every town where kids draw pictures of people xeriscaping and using rain barrels in the annual art contest. But Dickman says changing the way Hays thinks about water took generations.

HOLLY DICKMAN: That's how it is. If you grew up here you lived with it, and that's the culture. We are that way because we had to be. We have to be.

DAVID CONDOS: Hays has no other choice. It's the only city in Kansas with more than 15,000 people but no sustainable source of water. It's caught in the middle. Too far west for reliable rainfall and reservoirs, and too far east to tap into the massive, if disappearing, Ogallala Aquifer. So, when prolonged drought hits, things can get dire. People here still remember the water crisis of 1992 when taps almost went dry. Here's City Manager Toby Dougherty.

TOBY DOUGHERTY: It was a wake-up call for the city leaders at the time.

DAVID CONDOS: So, Hays put some real money into conserving what little water it has: giving rebates to residents who install low flow toilets, paying homeowners to replace sprinkler-dependent lawns with drought-tolerant native grass, irrigating sports fields with waste water. That saved more than 100 million gallons last year alone. When people in Hays turn on the radio, they might even here seasonal ads scaring them away from wasting water.

RADIO AD: Making adjustments to your everyday water usage may sound scary, but there's no need to feel like a monster.

DAVID CONDOS: Some changes haven't always been popular, like the one enforced by Hays Police that says residents can't water their lawns from noon to 7pm for part of the year. And if these sound like the types of extraordinary measures you'd see in the Desert Southwest...

TOBY DOUGHERTY: It's because we've had to look to places like Las Vegas and Tucson and Phoenix. We stole our landscaping regulations from Utah.

DAVID CONDOS: And it's worked. Today, Hays uses roughly half the water it did four decades ago, even though the town's population has grown by 20%. It now goes through less water per capita than just about any other city in Kansas. Even less than Phoenix.

TOBY DOUGHERTY: The problem is, we are the only city in Kansas that is acting like a city in the Mojave Desert or the Sonoran Desert. Because of that, a lot of the state looks at us as the poor people that don't have any water.

DAVID CONDOS: But as climate change pushes dry western weather eastward, Hays could get some company. Decades from now, cities like Wichita or Salina might have to rethink their own water use. Here's Newsha Ajami, a water expert at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California.

NEWSHA AJAMI: A lot of communities are grappling with drier droughts, longer droughts and a little bit of a shift in mindsets from droughts being an occasional thing to maybe droughts are our new reality.

DAVID CONDOS: But Hays leaders fear that even their best water-saving efforts might not be enough to help this city survive that new reality. Hays Water Director Jeff Crispin hikes down the bank of the Smoky Hill River, which feeds the city's primary water wells. Most years, it's one of the main rivers in northwest Kansas. Now, this riverbed is bone dry, etched with tire tracks from four wheelers.

JEFF CRISPIN: Paints a picture of what we're up against. You look west, you look east, and you don't see any water. That concerns me.

DAVID CONDOS: To shore up its long term survival, Hays plans to build a 70-mile pipeline to bring water in from three counties away. But even if that gets state approval, it will be years before it's up and running. So, once again, Hays finds itself caught in the middle hoping the water saving endeavors it began decades ago can help it hold on a bit longer.

JEFF CRISPIN: Those have to continue. Especially for years like this.

DAVID CONDOS: For the Kansas News Service, I'm David Condos in Hays.

KAYTE YOUNG: This story is being distributed by Harvest Public Media in collaboration with the Kansas News Service. Next up we have a persimmon recipe handed down from a notable figure in the Bloomington community. We'll hear that story and walk through the recipe together after a short break. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: When Susan Gray was growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, she lived a few blocks away from the Kinsey family. That's right. The Kinsey family, as in Alfred Kinsey the famous biologist and sexologist, founder of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947, now known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. The Kinseys lived in a brick house on First Street, and they had a large yard with many native plants. Alfred's wife Clara was the member of the Kinsey family that Susan Gray remembers most. The Kinsey kids were a good ten years older than her, so she never played with them. But Clara Kinsey ran a day camp that Susan attended for two weeks each summer as a Girl Scout.

KAYTE YOUNG: Mrs. Kinsey, as Susan knew her, was a knowledgeable naturalist who would show them treasures from the natural world like a grass snake she had captured in a glass jar. Susan vividly recalls Mrs. Kinsey letting the snake out so the girls at the day camp could pet it.

SUSAN GRAY: She was always at the day camp. She ran it for years and years and years. And we just looked up to her. She knew everything about everything in nature. You couldn't stump her with a question. One of the activities was going on hikes around Morgan-Monroe State Forest and she was always pointing out various trees, bushes, animals, birds. Not sure about snakes. We did have that one snake that she brought in. [LAUGHS] That was the first time I had ever felt the skin of a live snake, and it was very interesting, all the little scales on it. Everybody was very impressed with that.

KAYTE YOUNG: She was also a forager and had a recipe for persimmon pudding that she shared with Susan's mother, the Girl Scout troop leader who also knew Clara Kinsey socially through a hiking club that Mrs. Kinsey led. Susan's family had persimmon trees in their yard, and they gathered them every year for baking. My colleague, Alex Chambers, visited Susan Gray this fall to hear about Mrs. Kinsey's persimmon pudding recipe. She's family. Alex knows her as Aunt Susie.

ALEX CHAMBERS: And you grew up with eating this?

SUSAN GRAY: Yes. I grew up eating persimmon pudding, persimmon cookies. [LAUGHS] Not so much persimmon bread. I make that and I think that is probably my favorite thing. But my mother didn't make that.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Did you see Clara Kinsey using persimmons or making this recipe?

SUSAN GRAY: No, I never saw her bake. But she was well known for all kinds of natural foods, and so this was definitely one of them. I assume she had a persimmon tree in her yard. But I'm not sure.

ALEX CHAMBERS: And she shared the recipe around with the hiking club?

SUSAN GRAY: She shared the recipe with anybody who wanted it.


SUSAN GRAY: I think it was pretty popular. A lot of people have this recipe and then a lot of people my age bake persimmon pudding, although many of them use different recipes.

KAYTE YOUNG: Susan notes that Clara Kinsey's recipe for persimmon pudding is not the only one out there. Indiana State Park Service sells a booklet of persimmon recipes from Bear Wallow Books.

SUSAN GRAY: This has 17 pudding recipes, six bread recipes, six cake recipes, eight cookie recipes as well as pies, pancakes, biscuits, candy, and fudge.

KAYTE YOUNG: But Susan likes to make this one because it comes from Clara Kinsey. That's often how it is with food, isn't it? Our favorite dishes, our most treasured recipes, are the ones with a story behind them or a memory. The one Grandma used to make. The recipes that have been passed down or passed around for generations.

SUSAN GRAY: I make it always for family Thanksgiving. I make it for Christmas. I had a friend who, unfortunately, had Alzheimer's and was at Jill's house. But she loved persimmon pudding and came out to help me pick up persimmons. And so, when she was at Jill's house, I used to make a recipe in the fall and take it in and give it to them so that they could give it to her for dessert from time to time.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Can we go do the recipe?

SUSAN GRAY: We can do the recipe. Okay. So, I'm going to make a two cup persimmon pudding because I'm sending some home with you. [LAUGHS]

ALEX CHAMBERS: Sounds great.

SUSAN GRAY: And some to Hank and some to various other people. So, I have pulp from last year, which is frozen here in a two-cup container. I bake it in a ten by ten glass thing. You have to bake it in either CorningWare or Pyrex. You cannot bake it in a metal pan; it discolors the pan and discolors the pudding. You bake it in a slow oven, 325 or lower. I'm going to start the oven now. Flour, sugar, soda and the spices. Cinnamon, allspice, and ground cloves. There's the pulp. I mix it all in the same Pyrex that I'm going to bake it in. Saves a dish.

ALEX CHAMBERS: That's nice.

SUSAN GRAY: The pulp, the egg, two cups of milk. Add a scant cup of sugar. I mix it all with a whip.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Can you describe that? I've never seen a tool like that.

SUSAN GRAY: This is a special whip that I bought in Germany when we were in several bed and breakfast apartments over there. They had them and I thought it was so neat for mixing up soups and stuff like that, that I prowled the supermarkets until I found one. But the ordinary whip that's a spiral works just as well. But this one has a small spiral that goes around a half circle, and I just think it's better.


SUSAN GRAY: [LAUGHS] We've mixed the wet ingredients. I beat in the flour with the whip rather than just dumping it in and mixing it with a spoon because it makes the consistency better. It takes a while to sift it in in my sifter and then beat it in. But that's the way cooking is sometimes.


SUSAN GRAY: I don't know, Alex, are you going to post the recipe on the Web or anything like that?

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yes, that's the idea. I assume that's okay.

SUSAN GRAY: Well, Clara's not around to object but I think there are enough people that make her recipe [LAUGHS] that she would be thrilled to know that it's being perpetuated.

SUSAN GRAY: That is the first cup of flour. Cup two and the soda. One teaspoon of soda. This is all going in the sifter: the flour and the soda and a teaspoon of cinnamon, half a teaspoon of allspice and half a teaspoon of ground cloves. If you don't happen to have ground cloves, you can substitute nutmeg, but it doesn't have the same bite to it.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yes. Cloves have a little bit of bite.

SUSAN GRAY: They're spicier than nutmeg. You can use any kind of milk. This is two percent I'm using but my mother used whole and I've even in an emergency situation used dried skim milk reconstituted.

ALEX CHAMBERS: That would be an emergency situation.

SUSAN GRAY: Yes, that was an emergency situation. [LAUGHS] But, as I said, there isn't any shortening, so I think skimmed milk is probably not the best thing to use. [LAUGHS]

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yes, it seems like you want to get some fat in there somehow.

SUSAN GRAY: Yes. We're working on the second cup with the spices and the soda and everything in it. Like I said, it's not fast to make but using the whip means that as you beat in the dry ingredients, you're not trying to beat out lumps, which you probably would if you just dumped all the flour in and used a spoon.

SUSAN GRAY: You know you're going to have to cut out some of this whisking. People aren't going to put up [LAUGHS] with ten minutes of whisking.

ALEX CHAMBERS: We're just going to air it raw and it's just going to be the whole thing. [LAUGHS]

SUSAN GRAY: Now, making it in the same pan that you bake it in does mean that it messes up the sides of the pan. So, I ground with a spatula and scrape it down a little bit. So, then in the oven for an hour. A slow oven, 325 or lower and at the moment it is very pale tan color. Although persimmon pulp is dark brown, this is very pale tan color. But as it bakes, it will rise, turn dark, and then fall, which means that you have to bake it in a pan that has enough free board on it so that you don't want it much more than halfway up your CorningWare or whatever it is you're using. Because otherwise you'll have it overflow in your oven, which you will not like. So, that's really it. And we will just wait for an hour and then we will have dessert. [LAUGHS]

ALEX CHAMBERS: Sounds great.

SUSAN GRAY: You're supposed to serve it with unsweetened whipped cream, although we have been known to serve it with vanilla ice cream.

ALEX CHAMBERS: You can't go wrong with vanilla ice cream.

KAYTE YOUNG: They got the persimmon pudding in the oven and I suppose cleaned up the kitchen during that long hour of waiting for it to bake. Finally, the timer was going off and it was time to check on the pudding.

SUSAN GRAY: There goes the timer.


SUSAN GRAY: See what it looks like. Okay. Well, it has risen and then fallen.

ALEX CHAMBERS: That has definitely fallen.

SUSAN GRAY: Yes. So, we should be good. Let me see here. If I put this in, it's still a little juicy in the middle, but I think it's going to be okay. So, we can now have our dessert.

ALEX CHAMBERS: It sounds great. Let's eat.


KAYTE YOUNG: That was Alex Chambers in the kitchen with Susan Gray baking a persimmon pudding recipe handed down from Clara Kinsey, the wife of the well known biologist and sexologist Alfred Kinsey who founded the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University. Clara Kinsey, a researcher herself, supported Alfred's work and she was known to be an avid naturalist. She ran a day camp in the Morgan Monroe State Forest that Susan Gray attended for years as a child. You can find Clara Kinsey's recipe for persimmon pudding along with hundreds more seasonal recipes on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG: Urban farmers who want to buy land often look to vacant lots. It seems like a win win for the farmers and the city. The farmers get the land they need and can bring more food security to their neighborhoods. And the vacant lots are taken care of while the city gets more green space. But as Harvest Public Media's Eva Tesfaye reports, urban farmers often struggle to get that land.

EVA TESFAYE: Mediatrice Niyonkuru moved to Kansas City seven years ago from East Africa. For the last several years, she's grown crops here that you might not normally see in the Midwest. Like these African plants.

MEDIATRICE NIYONKURU: Cassava leaves, mchicha, and white eggplant.

EVA TESFAYE: Originally from Burundi, Niyonkuru is part of a farm training program in Kansas City, Kansas called New Roots for Refugees. It trains participants on farming methods and helps them establish their own businesses. Niyonkuru recently graduated and she's moving onto a piece of land she bought with another farmer. But, it's not as big as she'd like.

MEDIATRICE NIYONKURU: You've seen my garden is still small. But the problem, too, is no water.

EVA TESFAYE: The lack of water access and the inability to buy more land has kept them from moving off of the New Roots Training Farm. It's only supposed to be a four-year program but program manager, Semra Fetahovic says it's been increasingly difficult for their farmers to acquire land, so they end up staying longer.

SEMRA FETAHOVIC: This year we're actually leasing land to six graduates that can still rent land here. Next year, I think that number will be ten.

EVA TESFAYE: For many of their farmers, it's been difficult to get a hold of the owners of vacant lots, who often live elsewhere. Even if they do get in touch, the owners may not want to sell.

SEMRA FETAHOVIC: I think that's a really big frustration being in an urban setting. You just see so many vacant lots, yet the owners don't want to let go of them.

JANELL O'KEEFE: There's a multitude of private actors in that space, likely some of whom are people holding onto it, hoping it goes up.

EVA TESFAYE: Janell O'Keefe is from the Center for Community Progress, a national non-profit that helps cities deal with systemic vacancy. One of the ways that cities do that is by starting a land bank: a department that acquires vacant land and sells it. O'Keefe says farmers often have to deal with both land banks and private owners as cities typically only own a portion of the vacant land. And land banks aren't always excited about selling those lots for farms and gardens.

JANELL O'KEEFE: What we've seen through conversations and work we've done is just the prevailing notion that the highest and best use of a property is something bricks and mortar.

EVA TESFAYE: Detroit is a city that is known for having a lot of vacant land. Its land bank has about 60,000 vacant lots. Since a land bank was formed in 2008, it's been a little easier to buy property. That's according to Tepirah Rushdan. She's the co-founder of Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund.

TEPIRAH RUSHDAN: We've come a long way and we have a ways to go.

EVA TESFAYE: Rushdan says before the land bank there were lots of different entities that owned vacant land and no clear process on how to buy it. But even with the Detroit Land Bank Authority, she says the city still doesn't prioritize urban gardening.

TEPIRAH RUSHDAN: It's a secondary priority. Not even a secondary, it's a cute thing that people are doing in their eyes. [LAUGHS]

EVA TESFAYE: Rushdan believes that land access would get easier if cities just recognized the value of urban farms. A land bank spokesperson said their goal is return these properties to productive use. Back in Kansas City, Kansas, the land bank only sold one property to an urban farm in the past two years. It prioritizes single family housing. Andrew Davis is a Commissioner for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

ANDREW DAVIS: I don't think we have to choose.

EVA TESFAYE: Davis says the land bank is in the process of changing its policies. And he thinks there's enough land to go around.

ANDREW DAVIS: I think there's a way in which we can see gardens and farmers thrive in KCK, all while still having that aggressive movement for single family homes.

EVA TESFAYE: But he also says many of his colleagues don't agree. Especially because houses generate more property taxes than gardens. Urban farmers argue they bring their own value to neighborhoods with productive green spaces and healthy food. For Harvest Public Media, I'm Eva Tesfaye.

KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media covers food and farming in the American Midwest and Great Plains. You can find more from this reporting collective at Still to come on the show, a conversation with Hilary Fleck, curator of the Order Up! exhibit at the Monroe County History Center. That's coming up after a short break. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Hey, Earth Eats listeners, with the holiday season approaching, you might be looking for some baking ideas. Check out our Youtube channel where you'll find videos of me making holiday cookies in my home kitchen. For instance, there's a chocolate pecan shortbread where you make the dough ahead of time, shape it into a log, and then freeze it. Then you can slice off a half dozen or so cookies to bake fresh as needed throughout the holiday season. The cookies are crisp and delicate with a phenomenal nutty chocolate flavor. The recipe videos are produced by Payton Whaley with videographers Jacob Lindauer, Jacob Lindsey, and Saddam Al-Zubaidi. You can find them by searching for Earth Eats on YouTube. Be sure to like and subscribe.

KAYTE YOUNG: This is Earth Eats. I'm Kate Young. Hilary Fleck is the curator at the Monroe County History Center, a museum and research library dedicated to the history of Monroe County here in Southern Indiana. Her exhibit, Order Up!, was all about restaurants and highlighting the important part they play in our community. Earth Eats producer Toby Foster happens to work with Hilary at the History Center, and he noticed that the exhibit was receiving a lot of positive feedback from guests. Here's Toby talking with Hilary Fleck.

TOBY FOSTER: The Order Up! Exhibit got me thinking about the role that restaurants can play in shaping a community and how that's evolved over the last hundred plus years. It included a lot of old photos, menus, advertisements, signs, and other memorabilia from the restaurants in Monroe County's past and its present. I sat down with Hilary just as the exhibit was wrapping up to talk some more about how the exhibit came together, what we can learn about the history of our community through its restaurants, and why the exhibit received such a warm response.

HILARY FLECK: I'm Hilary Fleck and I'm the curator at the Monroe County History Center. The Monroe County History Center is at the corner of Sixth and Washington and we are the local history museum for Monroe County, Indiana, located in Bloomington, Indiana. We tell the history and culture of the people and places of Monroe County, Indiana. The Order Up! Exhibit featured a lot of the special one-of-a-kind restaurants that were in Monroe County from Ladyman's to Nicks to The Village Inn in Alexville, some that are still open, some that are not. Most are not, actually, but unique restaurants to Monroe County that people really connected with that you can't find anywhere else.

TOBY FOSTER: I asked Hilary about how she got the idea for the exhibit and how she began the process of figuring out which restaurants to include and which artifacts to include from those restaurants.

HILARY FLECK: The idea really came from one of our volunteers who has, unfortunately, passed away. She loved restaurants, all kinds of restaurants in Bloomington and Monroe County. And she always had said to me that we need to be doing something for restaurants. We have a menu collection and she was like, "We need to do something with the menus. It would be so cool. People would love to see that." And I was like, "Yes they would, that would be really cool." So, we finally had the opportunity to do an exhibit on restaurants and menus. And so, we started with what menus do we have in our collection? What does the collection contain? So, that's where we looked to highlight some of our early restaurants based on the artifacts in the collection. We had quite a lot from Boxman's Restaurant because Henry and Hattie Boxman donated a lot of their materials to the museum's collection, so we already had a basis for that.

HILARY FLECK: Ladyman's: we also had several pieces and photographs from Ladyman's Cafe. So, some of the choices for what restaurants were highlighted in the exhibit were a natural. Like, okay we've got this, and we've got this, so we'll talk about these. Others were not so natural. We didn't have pieces but we sought them out based on their history with the community, such as Nicks English Hut. We had just a few small items. We had a menu and we had a coaster from Nick's. I was able to talk to the owners and they were able to lend, based on sheer coincidence, one of the original booths from the 1920s restaurant to the exhibit. We were really lucky to have that addition to the exhibit. I think it really added something special and it was something from the original iteration of the restaurant from the 1920s. So that was really great. But we did have to seek out some other loans and donations to the exhibit.

HILARY FLECK: Our collections and, obviously, the public library has a lot of resources and vertical files. And so, we did do a lot of research on restaurants. If it's really well known, it's got a lot of newspaper articles or clippings, things like that about it. That helped us narrow down what we wanted to focus on, and then I tried to do some unique restaurants as well.

TOBY FOSTER: From my desk in the back office, I can just barely see the entrance to the museum, but I can usually overhear what visitors have to say. And I've noticed over the last few months that this exhibit really struck a nerve with people. Almost every visitor came in asking where the Order Up! Exhibit was and left with a wistful expression on their face, often sharing their own stories with staff or with each other. And I guess it's not so surprising since food can play such a big part in our life experiences and particularly in our shared experiences with others. I asked Hilary to share a little more about the reaction she's received from members of the community.

HILARY FLECK: It's really been very exciting to see that people are coming in specifically to see this exhibit. I felt like I always knew that people would really like it. People always seem to connect in Facebook groups about, "I remember this dish at this particular restaurant." And they're, like, "Oh yes, that was so good. Do you remember that waitress? Wasn't she funny." Like, "Oh yes." People share a lot of memories that are specifically around restaurants. So, I always thought that was such a good idea and it had a lot of potential, but I think actually having it up, I'm really excited about the draw that we're getting to the History Center. And, like you said, people coming specifically for it. It's really exciting to see. I love going to restaurants. I love meeting friends at restaurants. And I'm glad that we were able to tap into that connection and the nostalgia around restaurants that people love that are not there anymore.

HILARY FLECK: Two of the biggest ones that I often hear back about are Ladyman's and Pancho's. Ladyman's was a diner. There was a diner counter side and then there was a table seating side. And it had a counter that was, from what I can tell in photographs, maybe ten to 12 feet long. Very well known for its lunch counter coffee counter kind of scene. A lot of lawyers and public servants would come together for coffee in the morning or lunch and that sort of

thing. So, I hear a lot of "Having lunch at the counter at Ladyman's." Everybody seems to be really heartfelt for Ladyman's. They really miss it.

TOBY FOSTER: As someone who moved to Bloomington just after Ladyman's Cafe closed in 2006, I can personally attest to this fact. The other example that Hilary gave, Pancho's Villa, was just a little before my time.

HILARY FLECK: Pancho's was in the eighties, '82. I think it was open from '72 to '82, I believe. Pancho's was started by Danny Pavelich. I'm not sure I said that right. He was a student at IU. He was actually of Eastern European descent and he came to IU as a student. He started making food out of his dorm room for his friends until it snowballed into this thing. Then he opened Pancho's in 1972 and that's what I've heard was the first international food establishment in Bloomington, was Pancho's in 1972. So, [LAUGHS] that's what Danny's claim to fame was. He was the first international restaurant. It was in a house configured into a restaurant and then it expanded to have an outdoor patio and then an enclosed patio. That was a big thing. They cut down a tree and enclosed the patio.

HILARY FLECK: His daughter had said that he had parties after closing. If you were there at closing, he wouldn't kick you out but he also wouldn't let anybody else in. So, it would end up being this exclusive party at Pancho's and it got a little crazy after a while. It sounds like it was a really fun place to eat and lots of good food. So, even though Pancho's wasn't open for very long at all but Ladyman's was open for a while, a few decades, they had such a following and lots and lots of memories around that specific community of people who would come, the owners. Tom Ladyman, who opened Ladyman's, is still alive today. Danny who opened Pancho's is unfortunately not here today. But hearing about Danny, it seems he was a larger than life character who created a really fun and welcoming atmosphere. People just remember that and remember feeling really good to be there. It's really exciting to hear that through other people.

TOBY FOSTER: The idea of restaurants as we currently think of them today is a fairly new one and many of the earliest restaurants in the late 1800s and early 1900s were primarily located in hotels. One of the stories that Hilary highlighted in her exhibit is that two of Bloomington's earliest stand-alone restaurants, The Gables and Nick's English Hut, were both started by Greek immigrants to Bloomington. Both buildings remain fixtures of downtown and Nick's is still in operation today. I asked Hilary to talk a little bit more about the influence that Greek immigrants had on the community and the backlash they faced in the wake of the nativism that accompanied World War One.

HILARY FLECK: That was an interesting story that I didn't know until I was doing research for this exhibit. I knew that Nick's and The Gables were both founded by Greek immigrant families. I did know that, and one of our volunteers made sure I talked about the Greek influence because you can't talk about restaurants without talking about the Greeks. And I was like, okay, I'll do it. And there was actually a really great folklore paper written a couple of decades ago that's over in IU archives. It interviewed, I think it was the Poolitsan family. They were the ones who opened the Book Nook which became The Gables. So, the Book Nook was originally a bookstore and it did not have food. It maybe had ice cream. And then the Poolitsans took it over and made it into a restaurant rather than a bookstore. And so they dropped the Book Nook name and made it The Gables.

HILARY FLECK: So, the paper that I was reading from the IU archives had directed me to another resource that was a much newer book that was just published a couple of years ago about Greek candy confectioners in the Midwest. I was like, cool. I had found out that a lot of the earlier immigrants to America were really family ties. One family member would go and then the others would follow them and settle in the same place. And so, that happened with Nick Hrisomalos, who opened Nick's English Hut. He settled in New York City and then he went to Louisville and then he hopped his way to Bloomington. He knew another Greek family that was in Bloomington that needed another confectioner, and he knew how to do that. And so, it was this tie through candy that brought him to Bloomington and he opened his own candy shop and then went into a restaurant. And then the restaurant was more successful than the candy shop, so he closed the candy shop and stuck with the restaurant, which became Nick's English Hut, what it is today.

So, the paper that I was reading from the IU archives had directed me to another resource that was a much newer book that was just published a couple of years ago about Greek candy confectioners in the Mid West and I was like, cool. I had found out that a lot of the earlier immigrants to America were really family ties. So, one family member

would go and then the others would follow them and settle in the same place. And so, that happened with Nick Hrisomalos, who opened Nick's English Hut and he settled in New York City and then he went to Louisville and then he hopped his way to Bloomington and knew another Greek family that was in Bloomington that needed another confectioner and he knew how to do that. And so, it was this tie through candy that brought him to Bloomington and he opened his own candy shop and then went into a restaurant and then the restaurant was more successful than the candy shop, so he closed the candy shop and stuck with the restaurant, which became Nick's English Hut, what it is today.

HILARY FLECK: So, it was this whole journey. But this book had this whole section on how Greek immigrants in the 1920s faced prejudice from the KKK and how a lot of them faced attacks like breaking windows and damaging stores, and even physical attacks to themselves. I do know that Bloomington had its own KKK chapter here. I wondered whether that happened here. As prevalent as it was in the Midwest, I wondered whether it happened here. And it did. This author actually cited an oral history of one of the Poolitsan's granddaughters. It was a descendant and they had just mentioned that, "My Great Grandpa had this candy store in Bloomington and I remember going there and there was a KKK march around the square." And so it was intimidation. They didn't say outright that the store was damaged or they were attacked, in this oral history, but that there was the intimidation tactics.

HILARY FLECK: They faced a lot of trials and tribulations being immigrants in this community, especially at that time in America. And I wanted to make sure that was included.

TOBY FOSTER: Over the next several decades, most restaurants stuck to what might best be referred to as diner food or supper club fare. Think sandwiches, eggs, steak, potatoes, prime rib. That started to change around the 1970s following the health food trends of the time but also again through the influence of other cultures. One of Bloomington's unique characteristics is the variety of global cuisine available on Fourth Street located just blocks from downtown and steps away from Indiana University's Sample Gates. If you live here or have visited here, you would probably recognize the block of houses that have all been converted into restaurants serving Tibetan, Burmese, Indian, Korean, Thai, and other types of cuisine for decades.

HILARY FLECK: I know now that Bloomington is seen as an international food destination and that seems to have risen around about the '80s. And I think that's likely due to a rise in international students in the '70s and '80s. I heard a story which was not really proven, so you can take it with a grain of salt, that several international restaurants were started because international students graduated and couldn't find jobs. And so, they would start restaurants cooking what they knew and that's how that happened. I was never able to prove that, but that is something that I had heard. But I know that Bloomington is really well known for the international food and I think that that originated around the '80s and grew from there.

TOBY FOSTER: Hilary mentioned that the idea for this exhibit originated from the collection of menus at the museum. As someone who can spend a good bit of time looking at menus for restaurants in places that I may not even ever visit, I think this was one of my favorite parts of the exhibit. I particularly enjoyed the extensive sandwich list for the Jordan Grill, including special shredded lettuce, olive and sliced egg, and pork and peanut butter.

HILARY FLECK: It's really fun to look at those [LAUGHS] and see the prices and how prices of things change. One of the menus had a prime rib steak or something that was $2.50. And so you're just like, "Dang. If only I could get that today." The Jordan Grill one is the one that blows my mind because it's over where TIS is now on Third Street. It was literally across the street from IU campus. And so, it had a lot of students come in, so the prices are real cheap, like ten cents, 25 cents. I think 25 cents is the max price they have on the menu. But, yes, it's got some really--pork and peanut butter in a sandwich? I was like, mm, I don't know how I feel about that. So, yes, some of them were a little weird.

TOBY FOSTER: I guess that's the Elvis sandwich, peanut butter and bacon.

HILARY FLECK: Yes. Right. I was like, I don't know. How is the pork prepared? I need a bit more details. [LAUGHS]

TOBY FOSTER: Hilary was also able

HILARY FLECK: The recipes was a last minute addition to the exhibit. It was in the final week of installation and I was like, you know what, it would be cool if you could take something home and make it. Because I'm talking about restaurants and food. And when you think of these restaurants and if you'd been there, you're like, oh man, the bread from the Tao was just amazing. Do I have a recipe? And there's a whole Tao cookbook which we sell in the store. From what I can untangle, it started as a communal kitchen for a religious community. I can't find the right word. But it supported the religious community. The members would work at the restaurant and then the proceeds of the restaurant would support the workers. So, it started out that way and expanded because it was the first vegetarian based restaurant. Because of the religious teachings of the community, most of their recipes were all vegetarian.

HILARY FLECK: They also had a bakery, Rudi's Bakery, attached. You could just go into the bakery and just buy a loaf of bread and leave. You didn't have to go to the restaurant in order to get bakery items. But it was very much a product of the '70s, and its downfall was the community's downfall. The religious community had some troubles and, being different, it was an Eastern Buddhist religion. And being in Bloomington in the '70s was very difficult for the community and it also faced some backlash in that sense. There was a newspaper article that was published that didn't put the community or the restaurant in the best light, and so the leaders of the religious community left. And so the community failed and then the restaurant failed. So, they were very much intertwined with the religious community.

HILARY FLECK: So, I tried to include recipes that I could find from the restaurants that are highlighted. I couldn't find everybody because some of them are trade secrets and they're not going to share that. Gretchen Groves from the Groves Restaurant was very close to the chest with her recipes. She was even asked for her recipes from Bon Appétit Magazine and she turned them down as she was not going to share her recipes. But she did share one with the local newspaper. We have a couple of cookbooks that we had put together as a history center for fund raisers, and so there were some donated recipes, like from Nicks. There's two recipes from Nick's English Hut that were donated to the cookbook for the fund raiser for the History Center. So, I was able to pull those and use those for the exhibit. I think it's a really nice addition and I think people really appreciate it. I personally made the poppy seed bread recipe from the Tao. It did not turn out well. I tried. But [LAUGHS] I'm hoping other people had a better attempt than I did. [LAUGHS]

TOBY FOSTER: Talking with Hilary and viewing the exhibit, I really started thinking about the way that the restaurants shape a community or maybe vice versa. We have strong memories tied to food and to gathering with others. Many of us, myself included, work in the restaurant industry at one point or another and our coworkers can become another valuable community. Because there's nothing quite like the shared experience of working a dinner shift on the Friday night of graduation weekend. There are other unique traits of a community that can be illustrated by its restaurants. One example is The Hole, which was located in the basement of the BG Pollard Lodge on West Seventh Street. The lodge was built in 1950 by the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World, a Black fraternal organization. It was a gathering place for the Black residents of the Near West Side and of Bloomington in general during an era of segregation when not all restaurants were welcoming.

TOBY FOSTER: It remained an important social hub for the Black community until the 1990s. Last year, Indiana Landmarks, a historic preservation organization, placed the building on its list of the ten most endangered sites in Indiana. Another example of a community being reflected by its restaurants is Bruce's Cafe, the diner on Kirkwood that opened at 3am every day to cater to the third shift workers of the RCA plant, which used to be one of Bloomington's largest employers. The owner, Bruce, is another local character who I've heard more than a few stories about and who could supposedly carry on a conversation while remembering everyone's orders without breaking a yolk or burning a slice of toast. I asked Hilary for just a few final thoughts on this.

HILARY FLECK: Personally, in my life, restaurants have always been a place that I look forward to going to spend time with people, to gather with others. I sometimes will, but I'm not the type of person who will go to a restaurant by myself. I always want to drag somebody along with me or meet somebody there. And so, for me, it's always connecting with somebody and at a restaurant I remember I have happy memories of connecting with someone. Meeting a new friend or gathering together with friends or going to an anniversary or a birthday dinner or something like that. I always have fond memories connected to restaurants. And so, I wanted to tap into that. And I feel like a

community at large, if it's a really great restaurant, it's got a lot of those memories connected to that restaurant. Within Bloomington there's the Ladyman's Regulars. Or the Liars Bench at the Village Inn in Alexville was a communal table that these certain group of people would always be there every morning between eight and nine having coffee, gathering together.

HILARY FLECK: Can I curse? Shooting the breeze. But these people would gather together every morning and gossip together before they started their day. So, I just see restaurants as places where people can gather together and create a community and that's what I was hoping to tap into and remind people of their communities that sadly sometimes no longer exist. Like with Ladyman's, it's not here anymore. And so, you can't actually get a sandwich at the diner counter anymore. But hopefully you can come to the History Center and remember some of that. Even though the exhibit's not up anymore, I hope our other exhibits will help remember some of that Bloomington that's lost.

TOBY FOSTER: Hilary Fleck is the curator at the Monroe County History Center. You can find more information about the History Center on our website,

TOBY FOSTER: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it and it's a really nice exhibit. I really enjoyed it and I could tell a lot of other people really did too.

HILARY FLECK: Thank you very much, Toby. [LAUGHS]

KAYTE YOUNG: That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young with help from Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Samantha Gee, Abraham Hill, Payton Whaley, Harvest Public Media and me, Daniella Richardson.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Susan Gray and Hilary Fleck.

DANIELLA RICHARDSON: Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artist at Universal Production Music and Toby Foster. Our executive producer is John Bailey.

Hilary Fleck siting on a table with purple background and a shingled roof over the table with a sign that reads 'liars bench'

Curator Hilary Fleck sits at the "Liars Bench," one of the artifacts on display at the recent "Order Up!" exhibit at The Monroe County History Center in Bloomington. (Toby Foster/WFIU)

“It's really fun to look at those, and see the prices, and how prices of things change. One of the menus had a prime rib steak or something that was like $2.50. And so you’re like ‘Dang, if only I could get that today!’”

This week on the show we talk with Hilary Fleck, curator of the "Order Up" exhibit on the history of local restaurants at the Monroe County History Center.

And we have a persimmon pudding recipe with a history of its own.

Harvest Public Media shares reports on water conservation in a Kansas town, urban farmers struggling to access land and more, in this week's episode. 

Order Up!

Restaurants are an important part of any community. They can be a place to meet friends, a place to celebrate a milestone, or a part of one’s daily or weekly routine. A great restaurant is more than just the food it serves, and a truly memorable restaurant is well loved by its guests even long after it is gone. 

The Monroe County History Center, located in Bloomington, IN, recently wrapped up an exhibit titled “Order Up!” dedicated to the history of restaurants in Monroe County. Producer Toby Foster works part-time as a bookkeeper at the museum, and noticed that the exhibit was receiving a particular warm response from guests and sparking a unique sort of joyful nostalgia. 

A community is both shaped by and reflected in its restaurants. Greek immigrants built some of Bloomington’s earliest restaurants, including Nick’s English Hut, which is still in operation today. The Hole, located in the basement of the J.G. Pollard Lodge, was built in 1950 by a Black fraternal organization during a time when segregation meant that not all restaurants were welcoming, and was an important gathering place and social hub for the black community of the near west side – and of Bloomington in general – until the 1990s. The 1970s saw an increase in health food and of global cuisine, and Bloomington remains a destination for international dining. 

Restaurants generally seem to serve an important social purpose. Municipal employees gathered daily at the lunch counter at Ladyman’s Café, just steps from City Hall and the county courthouse. Others may remember Bruce’s Café, which opened every morning at 3:00am to cater to the third-shift employees of the RCA plant, one of Bloomington’s biggest employers at the time, or sitting at the Liar’s Bench at the Village Inn in Ellettsville to gossip and eat breakfast before work. 

Toby sat down with the curator of the Monroe County History Center, Hilary Fleck, to talk about the exhibit and the response it received. She told him about how it came together, a little about the history of a few different restaurants, and about the fond memories that guests shared with her. 

Note: Hilary Fleck mentions this book in the interview,

Sweet Greeks: First-Generation Immigrant Confectioners in the Heartland

A recipe with a history

When Susan Gray was growing up in Bloomington,Indiana, she lived a few blocks away from the Kinsey family--as in Alfred Kinsey, the famous biologist, and sexologist. He was the founder of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in 1947, now known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. 

The Kinsey’s lived in a brick house on first street, and they had a large yard with many native plants. Alfred’s wife Clara was the member of the Kinsey family that Susan Gray remembers most. The Kinsey kids were a good 10 years older than her, so she never played with them, but Clara Kinsey ran a girl scout day camp that Susan attended for 2 weeks each summer. 

Susan shares a recipe for persimmon pudding that Clara Kinsey shared with Susan's mom (and anyone else who wanted it). She tells the story and walks through the recipe with Alex Chambers, producer and host of Inner States

(note: Susan Gray mentions this book in the interview,

Old Fashioned Persimmon Recipes, Bear Wallow Books


Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Toby Foster and  Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

Clara Kinsey's Persimmon Pudding

round orange fruit on a wooden surface in the sunlight

She shared her love of the natural world with her community, and she shared this recipe.

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