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Buck Sergeant Duck and other tales of Donald’s 50th birthday celebration



So what are you going to do with your Memorial Day Monday?
If you’re out in Southern California and looking for a really spectacular patriotic
event to attend … I’m afraid that you’re about a week late at this point.

You see, the City of Torrance‘s 52nd Armed Forces
Day Celebration and Parade was held last weekend. With the branch of the service
being honored this time around being the United States Army.

“And why should I care about an Armed Forces Day parade that’s
being held in Torrance, CA?,” you ask. Well, some 27 years ago, a similar sort
of celebration was held in this same city during the month of May. One that
honored a longtime Disney star who also happened to be a U.S. Army veteran.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Maybe you’ve heard of this character? Donald Fauntleroy

Seriously, folks. The City of Torrance turned out on masse on May 19, 1984 for
a parade and retirement ceremony for Donald Duck. And – yes – I said “retirement
ceremony.” The Duck had supposedly been inducted into the Army with his May
1942 cartoon, “Donald Gets Drafted.” But the Studio  had never produced a cartoon or a comic strip that
showed Donald being separated from the Service. Which meant that – by the late
Spring of 1984 – the Duck had been on active duty for 43 years.

There was plenty of media on hand
as Donald – in his WWII-era uniform – arrived
for his retirement / promotion
ceremony. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Well, as part of Walt Disney Productions’ year-long
celebration of Donald Duck’s 50th birthday, the U.S. Army decided to
do something to acknowledge this cartoon character’s long time in service. Which
is why they sent a four star general – Lt. Gen. Arthur E. Brown, Jr., director
of the Army staff – out to Torrance, CA. to preside over a ceremony. During
which Donald would simultaneously be promoted and retired.

“And what rank was the Duck promoted to before the Army
then retired him?,” you query. Appropriately enough, E5. Which made Donald a
Buck Sergeant. Buck Sergeant Duck, to be specific.

Lt. Gen. Brown pins Donald’s new
E5 patch on the sleeve of his
uniform. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I’m told that Walt Disney Productions really pulled out the
stops from Donald’s combination promotion / retirement ceremony. Which means
that they raided Disneyland‘s costume department and unearthed every single
Duck-related walk-around character that had ever appeared in that theme park.
Which is why – as Donald was being honored – not only was Daisy looking on, but
so was Scrooge McDuck, Ludwig Von Drake and Huey, Dewey and Louie. They even
reportedly put a cast member in Disneyland’s seldom used Grandma Duck costume.

But you know who was not there for Donald’s promotion /
retirement ceremony in the City of Torrance? The Disney Legend who had been the
Duck’s speaking voice for the past 50 years, Clarence “Ducky” Nash.

Clarence “Ducky” Nash and his
longtime feathered
friend. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All
rights reserved

Though – to be fair – the only reason that “Ducky” wasn’t on
hand when Donald was separated from the Service was because Nash had a previous
engagement. You see, on that exact same date (i.e. May 19, 1984), “Ducky” was down
at Walt Disney World.  Where Nash was
serving as the Grand Marshall for the very first presentation of the Magic
‘s Donald Duck 50th birthday celebration parade.

And those who were in the Magic Kingdom on that day remember
this parade well. Given that it featured a cast member dressed in a Donald Duck
costume who was followed by 50 live Peking ducks. Who waddled after
Donald as he was their Momma … or Poppa, I guess.

Donald and his 50 friends rehearse
for their big moment. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This particular publicity stunt was the brainchild of
longtime WDW PR guy Charlie Ridgway. Who – when he heard that Disney Corporate
was planning a Company-wide celebration of Donald Duck’s 50th
birthday for the Summer of 1984 – hatched this promotional scheme.

As Ridgway recently recounted during his appearance at D23‘s
Destination D: Walt Disney World 40th‘s “Making the Magic Happen”

Donald gets introduced to 50
Peking ducklings in the
Winter of 1984. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
rights reserved

According to Charlie Cook – who was Disney World’s bird guy –
the only way that we could train the Peking ducks to perform this kind of
behavior was if Donald was introduced to them at birth. Which is why we then
arranged to have a cast member dressed as Donald Duck to be on hand at a Miami
hatchery when these fuzzy little duckling initially hatched out of their

Then – to further re-enforce the bonding between these live
ducklings and the costumed Donald Duck character – when these animals were finally
moved on property in the early Spring of 1984, they were always fed by a cast
member wearing the Donald Duck walk-around costume. Which is why these ducks
then began to associate the costume with the reward of food.

Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck
creator Carl Barks visit with the 50 Peking Ducks in
their holding pen at WDW’s
Fort Wilderness Campground. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights

Which isn’t to say that this Donald Duck 50th
birthday publicity stunt went exactly as Charlie Ridgway had hoped. This Disney
Legend still regrets his decision to bring Donald & all 50 of those Peking
Ducks up to Cinderella Castle for a photo op.

We had made this giant birthday cake out of frozen corn that
the ducks were supposed to nibble at. But as soon as those ducks saw the water
in that moat around the Hub, that was all she wrote. It took us hours to
collect them all up again, fish them out of the water.

This picture was taken just
seconds before all those live ducks made
a break for the Magic Kingdom’s moat.
Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This episode taught the folks at Walt Disney World that – no
matter how well an animal may have been trained – its natural instincts are
eventually going to kick in.

Which is why – after that initial photo op of those live
ducks following a costumed version of Donald up Main Street, U.S.A. – the parade
operations team opted to go  for a far more manageable solution. Which would still allow
the public to get a peek at these 50 Peking Ducks over the course of Donald
Duck’s 50th birthday celebration parade. While – at the same time –
give these fowls far fewer opportunities, as this parade rolled around the Hub
and/or past the Rivers of America, to take like a duck to water.

These Peking Ducks rode in style aboard
Donald’s 50th birthday float,
penned inside of clear acrylic
circles. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“But what became of all those ducks after Donald Duck’s 50th
birthday celebration was wrapped up?,” you ask. Not to worry. Once this special
promotional event was wrapped up in August of 1984, these Peking Ducks were
broken up into pairs and donated to zoos all over the country.

And speaking of traveling … Borrowing a page from Walt
Disney Productions’ highly successful promotional campaign for Mickey Mouse’s
50th birthday back in 1978 (which involved putting Disney Legend
Ward Kimball and a cast member in  a
Mickey Mouse costume on the Southwest Limited. Where – over the course of a 5
day train trip – Ward & Mickey retraced Walt’s fateful trip from NYC
to Hollywood in 1928), the Company persuaded Pacific Southwest Airlines to dub
one of its Boeing 727s Duck One.

Here’s the prototype for that custom
paint job which Walt Disney
Productions officials wanted PSA to do on Duck One. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

In mid-May of 1984, Duck One then zoomed around the country, visiting 14 different cities in just 4 days. Starting its journey
(appropriately enough) at the Burbank Airport, this 727 then flew to San Jose,
Sacramento, Eugene, Oregon and Seattle. After an overnight stop in Seattle,
Duck One then zoomed to Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and New York City. After
spending the night in NYC, this flying birthday party then took off for Boston,
St. Louis and Orlando.With the final leg of this journey going from Disney World to Atlanta to Camp Pendleton in California, followed by a special nighttime parade at Disneyland.

Which brings us back to Clarence “Ducky” Nash being the Grand
Marshall of Donald Duck’s 50th birthday celebration parade on May
19, 1984 at WDW’s Magic Kingdom. You see, “Ducky” and his wife Margaret were on board for the full
four days of this whirlwind press tour. If you look closely at the photo below,
you can see those two in among the crowd posing in front of Duck One during one
of the stops on this trip.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

And each stop along the way, this 80 year-old did what he
could to help promote Donald’s 50th birthday. Be it doing a radio
interview with NPR and/or making an appearance at a New York City movie theater
which was – at that time – screening a retrospective of the Duck’s 150 shorts
and 5 feature-length films.

Now you have to understand that “Ducky” had officially
retired from Walt Disney Productions back in 1971 and was only doing Donald
Duck’s voice part-time at this point. But given that Nash felt that he owed his
career to the Company, when Disney officials asked him to take part in high
profile publicity stunts during the late Spring / early Summer of 1984, this
octogenarian immediately said “Yes.”

Please note the Mann’s Chinese employees who are pressing the
feet of this Donald Duck character costume into the cement. Photo
by Con Keyes of the Los Angeles
Times. Copyright Tribune
Newspapers. All rights reserved

Take – for example – the photo above. Which shows Ducky and
Donald at Mann’s Chinese Theater on May 21, 1984. Which is when Donald Duck
became the 150th performer to have his feet immortalized in cement in
the forecourt at this Hollywood movie palace.

Given that Nash had
spent so many decades working in the shadows at Disney Studios, it was kind of
a thrill for all of his friends at the Company to see Clarence suddenly getting
all of this recognition. Sitting on the couch next to Johnny Carson on NBC’s “The
Tonight Show.” Getting a plaque from President Reagan during a special ceremony
in the White House’s East Room in recognition of all those years “Ducky”
visited kids in hospitals and then entertained them with his Donald Duck

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, what people didn’t know during the late Spring /
early Summer of 1984 was that Clarence “Ducky” Nash was already sick with
leukemia. But because he didn’t want to put a damper of Donald Duck’s 50th
birthday celebration, Nash always put on a brave face and showed up for every
event Disney asked him to do. Be it the ceremony in June 9th when
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley – in honor of the 50th anniversary of
Donald’s first on-screen appearance (in the 1934 Silly Symphony, “The Wise
Little Hen
“) declared it to be Donald Duck Day in LA. Which was then followed
by Clarence taking part in a ticker tape parade through Disneyland.

Or – better yet – Nash’s trip back to his old home town of
Watonga, Oklahoma. Where – on December 7, 1984 – Governor George Nigh declared
that date to be Clarence Nash Day in all of Oklahoma. What’s more, Watonga
renamed a street Clarence Nash Boulevard in Ducky’s honor.

Clarence “Ducky” Nash (1904 –

As it turns out, Nash’s trip back home to Oklahoma was basically
his last public appearance. Though Clarence has been selected to be the Grand
Marshall of the 1985 Tournament of Roses parade, when January 1st finally
rolled around, Ducky was just too ill to take part in those proceedings. As he dealt
with the end stages of his leukemia, Nash was in & out of St. Joseph’s
Medical Center in Burbank multiple times over the next few weeks before finally
succumbing on February 20, 1985.

But even then, Clarence was still trying to do right by The
Walt Disney Company. In the weeks and months that led up his demise, “Ducky”
identified an ambitious young animator – one Tony Anselmo – who seemed to have
what it takes when it came to voicing Donald Duck. And in the limited time
that he had left, Nash shared with Anselmo his many secrets when it came to the
proper way to perform this irascible character.

Tony Anselmo with (L to R) Diane
Disney Miller and Clarence Nash’s
daughter & granddaughter during Anselmo’s
January 2011
appearance at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Copyright
The Walt
Disney Family Museum. All rights reserved

And given that Tony’s done a stellar job of safeguarding
Donald over the past quarter century (not to mention always going out of his way
to acknowledge Clarence “Ducky” Nash as the originator of this Disney character’s
voice), I think it’s safe to say the Duck is in good hands.

And given that I actually started out my career of covering
The Walt Disney Company back in June of 1984, when – as a reporter for the Fort
Devens Dispatch – I was assigned to write an article about Donald Duck’s
promotion / retirement ceremony in the City of Torrance …

Buck Sergeant Duck salutes Lt.
Gen. Arthur E. Brown, Jr. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights

… Well, I was somewhat pleased to learn recently (from a
friend who works for the Department of Defense) that the Duck didn’t actually
retire from the Service 27 years ago. That – if you check the U.S. Army’s active
duty roster – you’ll see that Donald’s current status is listed as “inactive.”
Which means that – in time of war, if need be – this cartoon character could
actually be called up once again.

Of course, given that Donald appeared on 400 military
insignia during World War II, one might argue that the Duck has already done
enough at this point to serve his country.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

Anyway … Here’s hoping that you and yours have a safe and
happy Memorial Day. Just please make a point sometime today to remember all
those who have served our country. Including one Donald Fauntleroy Duck.

Your thoughts?

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 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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