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Don’t Touch That Dial! Disney’s TV Commercial Connection

Jim Korkis returns with more entertaining insight into animation history. This time around, Jim reveals the Mouse House connection to two 1950s advertising icons, Fresh Up Freddie and Tommy Mohawk.

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In my personal collection, I have video copies of Fifties commercials where Dumbo is shilling for Canada Dry, Alice in Wonderland (in Kathyrn Beaumont’s voice) is proclaiming the joys of Jello, B’rer Rabbit hawks American Motors cars and Jiminy Cricket urges viewers to drink Baker’s Instant Chocolate. The Tinker Bell commercials for Peter Pan Peanut Butter deserve a special column of their own especially since Miss Bell is celebrating her 50th birthday this year.

One of the greatest Disney storymen of all time, Bill Peet, tells a wonderful story in his autobiography of how when he butted heads with Walt Disney on a segment of SLEEPING BEAUTY, Peet discovered that the “next day, I was sent down to the main floor to work on Peter Pan Peanut Butter tv commercials, which was without a doubt my punishment for what Walt considered my stubbornness. I toughed it out for about two months on peanut butter commercials then stubbornly decided to return to my room on the third floor whether Walt liked it or not.”

Some Disney fans are aware of those commercials and may even be aware that doing commercials helped keep the Disney Studio financially solvent after the World War II years and provided some of the money for the building of Disneyland.

Disney veteran Harry Tytle who worked at the Studio for over forty years in a variety of capacities including producing the weekly television program stated in his autobiography: “Commercial work answered our prayers, as it supplied badly needed capital. Advertising work clearly helped keep the studio intact. But while the studio made money with this type of product (and I mean BIG money)it was not a field either Walt or Roy were happy to be in. Their reasoning was sound. We didn’t own the characters we produced for other companies; there was absolutely no residual value. Worse, we were at the whim of the client; at each stage of production we had to twiddle our thumbs and await approval before we could venture on to the next step.”

Wait a minute. What does Tytle mean when he says “we didn’t own the characters”? Didn’t I just write about famous Disney characters appearing in television commercials? And that listing didn’t even include Donald Duck who sold Cheerios and Donald Duck Orange Juice along with dozens of other products.

Well, a little known Disney secret is that the Disney Studios added money to its sadly depleted bank account by creating characters and commercials for other companies. Today, let’s look at two of the most popular ones.

At Disney in the Fifties, veteran animator and director Charles Augustus “Nick” Nichols was in charge of the studio’s television commercial unit, developing such original characters as “Bucky Beaver” for Ipana Toothpaste, “Fresh Up Freddie” for 7-Up and Tommy Mohawk for the Mohawk Carpet Company.

Nichols (1910-1992) began as an animator on the Disney shorts and had most of the responsibility as a director on the Pluto cartoons from 1944-1951. He animated the coachman in PINOCCHIO. He was the co-director of TOOT WHISTLE PLUNK AND BOOM (1953). He later worked at Hanna-Barbera from 1959 through the Eighties on everything from their features like THE MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE to their Saturday morning series like Secret Squirrel, Scooby Doo Where Are You, Herculoids, Mighty Mightor, and many others. From 1988 until his death in 1992, he was a director with Disney TV on The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Goof Troop and Bonkers.

Commercials provided much needed income for the Disney Studios. “They (7-Up) spent two and a half million dollars on their tv commercials, ” remembered Paul Carlson, who was Nichols’ assistant in the unit, when he talked with animation historian Michael Mallory. “I think they did 26 one-minute commercials at $100,000 apiece. And we usually handed out the animation to the staff artists at Disney, but they would do the work at home.”

Seven Up was introduced in 1929 as “Bib Label Lithiated Lemon Lime Soda”. It was called the “Uncola” because it lacks the brownish coloring used in Coca-Cola/Pepsi Cola.

Fresh Up Freddie was the mascot created by the Disney Studios for the soft drink company. He was a cocky animated rooster who looked like a mixture of Panchito the Mexican rooster and the wacky Aracuan bird who both appeared in THE THREE CABELLEROS (1945). Freddie demonstrated how to plan successful parties and picnics by having plenty of 7-Up on hand. He dressed in a variety of different human clothing depending upon the commercial including a bow tie, vest, slacks, and soda jerk hat when necessary. Leo Burnett created the Fresh-Up Freddie ad campaign in 1957.

By 1958, Freddie made his debut in the commercials in the popular Disney TV series, ZORRO. He spouted phrases like “Fresh Up with 7-Up”, “You Like It, It Likes You” and “Nothing Does it Like 7-Up”. Freddie was supposedly named in honor of Seven-Up bottler Fred Lutz Jr. In the beginning, Freddie didn’t have a name but with his connection with the successful ZORRO, television series, the rooster became a celebrity and 7-Up began merchandising the character and featuring him in their monthly ZORRO newsletter to their dealers. They printed nearly 10,000 copies of their newsletter a month. In the newsletter and print ads, Freddie sometimes dressed in a Zorro costume or posed with stars from the series.

Merchandise included a Fresh Up Freddie Figure (mail order painted vinyl figure), a Fresh Up Freddie Ruler (promotional printed clear plastic 6 ¼” by 2″ ruler with bicycle safety rules), a pinback button and a Fresh Up Freddie Stuffed figure. Many of these items pop up in eBay auctions today.

Bill Cotter, the author of the terrific book THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY TELEVISION (and you should immediately go to his website www.billcotter.com to order a very reasonably priced CD he has put together of 256 additional pages about Disney television that do not appear in his extensively researched book), states on his outstanding Disney Zorro website that:

“Zorro had two sponsors, the 7-Up soft drink company and the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors. Walt had gone all out in his effort to obtain 7-Up’s backing, including an appearance in a film made for the soft drink bottlers and their distributors. Cracking Zorro’s whip for emphasis, Walt explained the premise of the series, using models of the as-of-yet unbuilt outdoor sets, as well as samples of the costumes. The sales pitch was successful and 7-Up agreed to participate in a series of joint promotions with Disney, not all tied in with Zorro. For example, Annette and Roberta Shore were seen promoting The Shaggy Dog with a toast of 7-Up.”

“Although there were two sponsors, each had wanted to be specifically identified with the series, so Disney took a unique approach. Instead of having commercials from both firms each week, the sponsors alternated weeks, with a brief word from “your alternate sponsor” making sure that each company shared in the weekly success. Almost forgotten today are the AC characters, Alan Cranbroke and Cynthia Aldrich. This animated couple was joined by live spokesperson Gordon Mills, who settled their domestic arguments and just happened to throw in a mention of AC’s products in the process.”

In my video collection, I have three different one minute Fresh Up Freddie commercials. In one, Freddie wears a party hat and is setting up for a big party with a table and decorations. Then the commercials cuts to a live action segment with a woman who looks like she stepped out of the DONNA REED show preparing 7-Up for her party guests. Then it cuts back to Freddie who urges viewers to get the twenty-four bottle pack. The second commercial is more inventive where Freddie dressed as a soda jerk does a soft shoe shuffle with a live action male teenager before it cuts to a boy and girl teenager enjoying the delights of the soft drink. The third commercial has Freddie as a tv sportscaster asking “What does a sports champion drink?” and then various versions of Freddie as a prize fighter, a female swimmer (with a mermaid tail) and a lanky basketball player attribute their success to 7-Up.

Tommy Mohawk was another commercial character created by Disney. Walt signed a contract in 1951 to produce a series of eight animated commercials for Mohawk Carpets. Since its beginning in 1878, Mohawk is one of the most recognized carpet brands in history. The Fifties were a time of expansion for Mohawk with the construction of new manufacturing facilities and then the merging with Alexander Smith, Inc. to form Mohasco Industries which made it the largest carpet manufacturer in the world.

The contract refers to the character as “Tommy Hawk” so the name (or close enough to it) was already decided fairly early in the creation process. The spots themselves were all animated in 1952. The Mohawk Carpet Company on its website states that “we consider Tommy’s birthday to be 1955 when the commercials ran on television”.

The commercials were directed by Nichols. Most of the animation was done by Phil Duncan, Volus Jones and Bill Justice. Duncan and Jones left the studio shortly after working on the Mohawk commercials and joined a new animation studio called UPA which would make animation history. Disney Legend Bill Justice was very well respected at the time for his animation on the Donald Duck and Chip ‘n’ Dale cartoons.

The titles of the commercials from the Disney production files were: Tommy Tests Carpets, Tommy Supervises Weaving, Tommy Plants Carpet Seeds, Tommy Designs Carpets, Tommy Falls for Minnie, Tommy Gives Animals Sleeping Carpets, Birds Use Waterfall for Loom, Tommy Harvests Carpets.

Apparently the Disney Company files doesn’t have a copy of what the Disney version of Tommy looked like which is slightly different than the version that appears on the Mohawk Carpet website. Thanks to Mark Kausler who is the best friend animation scholarship has ever had and whose generosity of his knowledge and resources have added significantly to every important book about animation written in the last two decades, I was able to see about four years ago a Xerox of a Xerox of a stat of a model sheet that was in the collection of the late Amby Paliwoda. Paliwoda, who passed away at the age of 89 in June 1999, worked as a Disney animator from 1933 up through the early Sixties (one of his last Disney credits was as a character animator on 101 DALMATIANS). He later found work at other animation studios including Hanna-Barbera, Filmation (where he worked on Superman and Batman cartoons), Sanrio, Bakshi-Krantz, Duck Soup and many others.

On Paliwoda’s stat from 1952, it is labeled “Mohawk Tommy, Chatter and Minnie”. Tommy is roughly three heads high and his expression is very similar to other young Disney characters of this time period like the young Pecos Bill. Tommy has a high forehead with a Mohawk haircut with a lone feather stuck into the back of it. He also has two parallel horizontal stripes of warpaint on his forehead. He has a square loincloth that reaches to just above his feet, wears moccasins and carries a tomahawk that looks like a triangular piece of rock with two crisscrossing straps holding it to a simple wooden handle. From his positions on the model sheet, he is obviously a very enthusiastic young boy.

Minnie, by contrast, is a demure Indian maiden with two dark haired pigtails, a plain headband and a single feather. She wears a plain dress with rounded fringe on the arms and bottom which reaches to her knees. Chatter looks like Dale from Chip ‘n’ Dale except with a smaller nose and a squirrel tail. He also wears a plain headband and a single feather and the oversized headband keeps dropping comically over his eyes. Obviously, Bill Justice’s experience on Chip ‘n’ Dale helped him animate the character.

The character of Tommy does not look like Little Hiawatha from the Disney 1937 Silly Symphony although there are some superficial similarities which probably helped the animators. Little Hiawatha had a series of comic book adventures in the back pages of the comic book Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories until well into the 1950s so that design may have helped influence the animators on Tommy.

Walt loved the character of the little Indian boy and even though he never liked doing sequels, he allowed his artists to develop some possible story ideas for other uses of the character. One of those artists was Walt Kelly who later went on to create the well loved POGO comic strip. He even helped design a cute little girlfriend named Minnehaha for Little Hiawatha for a possible sequel and that design may have influenced the design for Tommy’s Minnie.

On e-bay, in the Disney section, someone auctioned off nine 30 second radio spots made by Mohawk Carpets in 1957. In those radio commercials, Tommy Mohawk invited listeners to visit Walt Disney’s new magic kingdom in Anaheim which had only been open for a year and a half. The final purchase price of those radio commercials was fairly outrageous and I have never seen them offered for resale.

I have never seen an animated Tommy Mohawk commercial and I know for a fact that none exist in the either the Disney or the Mohawk Company archives. While some homemade videotapes of animated commercials popped up at various conventions in the Eighties with at least two volumes devoted solely to the output of Jay Ward and Bill Scott and several volumes devoted to animated characters promoting breakfast cereal, there was no videotape devoted to Disney commercials. Perhaps someday “Ed Finn” might produce one if Duane is a reader of this website. Commercials were simply another disposable commodity and I suspect it never occurred to Walt that almost fifty years later anybody would be talking about them. Officially the Disney Studios closed its TV commercial division in the late Fifties. However, when Walt Disney World opened in 1971, it got involved with having Bob Moore design the Orange Bird who is fondly remembered by early visitors to the park.

And perhaps the next time Jim Hill and Nancy come down to this neck of the woods to visit, we can all visit where they make Donald Duck Orange Juice in Lake Wales. It is the oldest surviving Disney participant and maybe we can all try to figure out what a duck has to do with citrus drinks.

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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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