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A special which-witch-is-which edition of Why For

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about Walt Disney’s connection to MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz,” reveals who almost wound up playing Eglantine Price in “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” as well as offering an update on Monday’s “Harry Potter and the Letter of Intent” story

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First up, George S. writes to say:



My family and I were visiting Disney-MGM earlier this year. And while I was at that park, I got talking with a cast member who was working at the “Great Movie Ride.” He met our car as we rolled back in that attraction’s exit area and asked us what we had all thought of the ride. I told him that I thought that TGMR didn’t have nearly enough Disney in it. That it paid tribute to far too many films that didn’t have anything to do with Disney Studios, movies like “The Wizard of Oz.”


This cast member then told me that if it weren’t for Walt Disney, MGM never would have made “The Wizard of Oz.” I wanted him to explain that remark. But then he hurried off to help unload the next car that was coming into the station. And my family and I went off to dinner.


Since then, I’ve been puzzling about what this cast member said. And I can’t figure out what the connection might be between Walt Disney and “The Wizard of Oz.” So can you help me out? You seem to know about all of these weird connections between Disney and other movies.


Dear George S.


I think what that WDW cast member was trying to tell you was that it was the huge success of Walt Disney’s 1937 release, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” …



Copyright 1937 Walt Disney Productions


… that actually inspired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to put “The Wizard of Oz” into production.



Copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


I mean, it can’t really be a coincidence that — just three weeks after Disney’s feature-length cartoon opens to a huge box office and glowing reviews — that MGM head Louis B. Mayer acquired the movie rights to L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”


MGM certainly wanted the public to think that its lavish live-action version of “The Wizard of Oz” was a suitable follow-up to Disney’s animated “Snow White.” Don’t believe me? Then check out this poster for “Oz” ‘s original release in August of 1939.



Copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


Yep. You read the copy on that poster right. “Biggest screen sensation since ‘Snow White.’ “


Though — truth be told — long before film had actually begun turning through a camera, during the pre-production phase of MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz,” Disney’s first animated feature had a huge impact on this live-action musical.


How so? Well, take — for example — the Wicked Witch of the West. The production team initially had a lot of trouble getting a handle on what the villain of “The Wizard of Oz” should look like, how the witch should behave, etc. And since Disney had had such success with portraying the Queen in “Snow White” as a beautiful but cold & cruel woman …



Copyright 1937 Walt Disney Productions


… The “Wizard of Oz” production team thought that this might also be the way to go with the Wicked Witch of the West. Which is why they initially hired elegant Gale Sondergaard



Photo courtesy of Google Images


… to play this role in the picture. MGM’s costume department then created a sequined cowl & witch’s hat. With the hope that this would give the Wicked Witch of the West a somewhat sinister air of sophistication.



Copyright 1938 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


Not to mention aping the look of the Queen in “Snow White.”


But after camera tests were done of Gale in this get-up, the higher-ups at MGM decided to go another way with the Wicked Witch. Rather than modeling that character after “Snow White” ‘s beautiful but evil queen, they decided to try a look that was more in line with the Queen’s disguise …



Copyright 1939 Walt Disney Productions


… You know? The ugly old crone?


So the studio first pulled all of the sequins off of Sondergaard’s witch’s costume, then slathered Gale’s beautiful face with heavy make-up …



Copyright 1938 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


… in an attempt to make this glamorous actress look as ugly as possible. But being the great beauty that she was, Sondergaard’s strong cheekbones still read through all of that heavy make-up. Which is when the studio realized that they were going to have to hire another actress to play the Wicked Witch. Someone like Margaret Hamilton



Copyright 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


… whose already strong chin & sharp features would provide a good base for the Wicked Witch make-up.


Mind you, even though Gale Sondergaard left the cast of “The Wizard of Oz,” she still managed to appear in a big budget fantasy film that a movie mogul deliberately put into production as his studio’s answer to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”


Only in this case, it wasn’t Louis B. Mayer. But — rather — Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. And the movie was “The Blue Bird” …



Copyright 1940 20th Century Fox


… A Shirley Temple vehicle where Sondergaard played Tylette, a spoiled house cat who had been magically turned into a human being.



Copyright 1940 20th Century Fox


Unfortunately, “The Blue Bird” bombed at the box office when this Walter Lang film was released to theaters in January of 1940. So Gale’s performance as Tylette pretty much went straight into the toilette …


And speaking of movie that under-performed, Emily T. writes in with a question about “Bedknobs & Broomsticks”:



Dear Jim —


I really enjoyed that story that you did last week about how Disney Feature Animation recycles story ideas. Mostly because you touched on my absolute favourite Disney film, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”



Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions


For years, I have heard that this Robert Stevenson film was the studio’s attempt to do sort of a sequel to “Mary Poppins.” Which is one of the reason that David Tomlinson wound up cast as this film’s romantic lead.



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions


But recently I have heard that Disney actually intended on making “Bedknobs” (to borrow a Jim Hill-ism) a really-for-real sequel to “Mary Poppins.” That the studio supposedly went so far as to offer the role of Eglantine Price to Julie Andrews. And that Angela Lansbury only got this role after Julie turned down the part. Is there any truth to this story?


Dear Emily T.


Actually, yes there is. Ever since Julie had done her Oscar-winning turn in “Mary Poppins” …



Copyright 1964 Walt Disney Productions


… the folks at Walt Disney Studios had been hoping to lure this Brit back to Burbank. Have Julie lend some of her star power of a new Walt Disney Productions picture.


Which is why in late 1968 “Bedknobs” producer Bill Walsh sent Julie a copy of the film’s screenplay. Andrews (who — at that time — was right in the middle of shooting “Darling Lili” with her husband Blake Edwards) took a quick glimpse at the script. Concerned that the character of Eglantine Price was a little too close to Mary Poppins, which might then cause her critics & fans to accuse Julie of repeating herself, she politely passed on the project.


Which is how Angela Lansbury eventually wound up playing the apprentice witch in this December 1971 release …



Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions


… But not before the studio seriously considered a dozen other actresses for this part. Including Lynn Redgrave, “Laugh In” starlet Judy Carne and British TV favorite Wendy Craig.



Photos courtesy of Google Images


But given that Lansbury was just coming off of her Tony Award-winning turn in the hit musical, “Mame,” it was felt that Angela had the proper chops to tackle all of the singing & dancing that had to be done in “Bedknobs & Broomsticks.” More to the point, that this Broadway star (just as Julie Andrews did when she transitioned from appearing in “Camelot” to starring in “Mary Poppins”) would bring a certain amount of class to this new picture from Walt Disney Productions.


So Disney officially offered Lansbury the part of Eglantine Price in the fall of 1969. Angela formally accepted the role in November of that same year. And by March of 1970, she was seated on a broomstick. Hanging from piano wires high above a soundstage floor in Burbank.



Copyright 1971 Walt Disney Productions


Now where this gets interesting is that — once Julie finished working on “Darling Lili” — she picked up that copy of “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” that Bill Walsh had sent her in late 1968. She then gave the script a much more thorough reading. And this time around, Andrews liked what she saw. 


Which is why Julie then picked up the phone and gave Bill a call, telling him “You know, if you’re still looking for an Eglantine Price, I think I’d be interested in playing this part now.”


It was then that Walsh had to tell Andrews that — just a week earlier — Disney had signed Angela Lansbury to star in “Bedknobs & Broomsticks.” That a story about this deal would be appearing in the trades shortly.


Ever the pro, Julie told Bill that he made the right choice, that Angela would do an excellent job with the role. And then — before hanging up — Andrews wished Walsh well, saying that she hoped production of his new film would go smoothly.


Now when you hear a story like that, you just have to wonder: How much better would “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” have done at the box office in 1971 if the company’s PR flaks had been able to promote this picture as ” … Julie Andrews’ triumphant return to Walt Disney Studios” ?


And — finally — I answer the questions that I’ve been getting via e-mail ever since Monday, when JHM ran my “Harry Potter and the Letter of Intent” story ran on JHM back. Since that time, my article has been rebutted by both the Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet. Who say that a representative from J.K. Rowling’s office told them that there was “no truth” to this rumor.


So — faced with a denial like that — am I now going to change my story?


No.


There is a letter of intent, folks. I’m certain of it.



Copyright Warner Bros. Productions


As to why I’m certain … I can’t say any more without revealing who my sources on this story actually are. And I’m not going to do that because … Well, if I did that, I’d wind up destroying a friend’s career. And I’m not going do that just so I can prove to a bunch of Harry Potter fans that what I posted on Monday is actually true.


“So if Disney really is working on a ‘Harry Potter’ -related project,” you ask, “then why would a representative from Ms Rowling’s office tell the Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet that there was ‘no truth’ to this story?” … I don’t know what to tell you, folks. Other than to point out that we’re still at least nine months away from when this project was originally supposed to be announced. So maybe a decision was made to deny any doings with Disney until the proper time for the official announcement arrived.


As to the other alleged “error” in Monday’s article (I.E. I supposedly got the publication date for the seventh “Harry Potter” book wrong) …Look,  I actually called Scholastic last week during the research phase of this story. And according to the staffer that I spoke with, July 7, 2007 is the date that this publishing house hopes to begin selling the seventh & final book on.


As this unnamed Scholastic employee explained it to me:



“That date is just too perfect. It’s a Saturday in the middle of summer. By then, the kids will have been out of school for a couple of weeks. So they’ll be chomping at the bit to get their hands on this book. So that means that the big boxes will be able to move hundreds of thousands of copies at all those stroke-of-midnight sales events.


Of course, Jo has to finish writing the book by next spring in order for us to actually meet that delivery date. Which is why we’re all sending good thoughts her way right now. Hoping that she’ll then be able to get the manuscript to us in time to take advantage of the whole 7-7-7 thing.


But if we don’t get her manuscript in time to take advantage of the July 7th publication date … It ultimately doesn’t matter. 


Scholastic is still going to have the most highly anticipated book of the year. The final installment of the ‘Harry Potter’ series. This book is going to sell like gangbusters no matter when we release it.”


So there you have it. Scholastic is hoping to receive Rowling’s manuscript in time to take advantage of the inherent PR value of having the seventh & final “Harry Potter” book officially go on sale on July 7, 2007. But if that doesn’t actually happen … It’s not the end of the world. This publishing house already knows that it has one of the best selling books in history on its hands.


And speaking of the end of the world … We’ve now reached the end of this week’s edition of “Why For.” Here’s hoping that you all enjoyed the assortment of stories that have been posted on JHM over the past five days. More importantly, that you come back to the site next Monday to see what else we have to offer.


Have a great weekend, okay?


j

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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