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How the Imagineers came to create the “Country Bear Christmas Special” show

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Back when I lived in Central Florida in the early-to-mid 1990s, one of my favorite
things to do this time of year was to go into Frontierland at WDW‘s Magic
Kingdom
and then catch a performance of “Country Bear Christmas Special.”


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There was just something about that version of “The
Christmas Song” (which you can hear starting 3:10 minutes into this YouTube
recording of the show
) which Henry & Teddi Barra perform in this theme park
show that always used to give me chills. Made me miss my friends & family
back up in New England.

Nowadays, of course, the reverse is true. I live up in the
cold & the snow of New Hampshire now. And because the “Country Bear
Christmas Special” is no longer presented at any of the stateside Disney Parks
Well, I find myself really missing that particular rendition of “The Christmas
Song.”

But you want to know something interesting about the “Country Bear Christmas
Special” ? The Imagineers didn’t create a holiday version of the “Country Bear
Jamboree
” because they wanted  to
celebrate the season. But – rather – because they were looking to give
Disneyland visitors a reason to return to Bear Country.


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Strange but true, folks. Though Walt Disney Productions spent
$8 million and relocated more than 250 trees in an effort to make this theme
park’s old Indian Village area look more like the Great Northwest, Southern
Californians obviously weren’t all that impressed with this new addition to
Disneyland.

By that I mean: The crowds initially came out to this part
of the theme park to catch a performance of “Country Bear Jamboree” when Bear
Country first opened in March of 1972. But as Bruce Gordon & David Mumford
explained in their most-excellent history of The Happiest Place on Earth, “Disneyland the Nickel Tour,” at least from an attendance point-of-view, the park’s newest
addition ” … turned out to be a major letdown.”

“And why was that?,” you ask. Mumford & Gordon had their theories:


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This new land’s main attraction – Country Bear Jamboree – turned out to be its
only attraction. The rest of Bear Country consisted of nothing more than a row
of Western-styled buildings circling a dead-end street.

The largest building in this new “land” (outside of Country
Bear Playhouse) housed the Bear Country restrooms. The porch right in front of
the men’s room was often used as a stage for Bear Country’s singin’ cowboys and
square dancin’ gals. But the real entertainment was watching the startled faces
of the guys comin’ out of that men’s room, still busy hitchin’ up their jeans …
suddenly findin’ themselves on stage, smack dab in the middle of a show!

Over the years, [whatever the real cause was of the attendance
erosion that this part of Disneyland experienced] the problem would reveal
itself in the most concrete of terms: the guests simply stopped going to Bear
Country. By the end of the decade, it was obvious that something would have to
be done.


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As earlier as June 1976, the folks who were in charge of Disneyland’s
long-range masterplan were discussing what could be done to compel Guests to
once again visit the Northwestern corner of this theme park. Among the ideas
that were discussed at this time was …

the Keel Boats could be moved from their existing location
to the Bear Country expansion area removing some of the crowded conditions that
presently exist on the river at the Tom Sawyer-Fowler’s area. All of this could
be (done in a way to compliment) the general woodsy atmosphere of the existing
Bear County.

But in the end, relocating the Keel Boats (which was – after
all — a low capacity attraction) didn’t seem like it would drive nearly enough
Disneyland Guests back  into Bear Country
to turn around this part of the Park’s low attendance problem. Which was why –
in January of 1982 – the Disneyland expansion committee began talking about
broadening and/or changing the overall theme of this “land” because  …


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… Bear Country (remains) a weak draw due to (its) limiting
theme and potential attractions based around it. A broader theme would balance
it more with Adventureland, Fantasyland, etc.

Which is why the Disneyland expansion committee began talking
about shifting Bear Country’s storyline, making this part of the Park a
celebration of …

… the deep South, Dixie, Kentucky home, Mark Twain.


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Which – at first glance – may seem like a weird idea. But
let’s remember that Bear Country abutted The Haunted Mansion. Which – in turn –
was at the outer most edge of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. So by turning Bear
Country into a nostalgic recreation of the rural south … Well, that would then
make this “land” …

… a logical outgrowth from the city and plantations (New
Orleans Square
and The Haunted Mansion).

So with Tony Baxter helping to guide the development of this
Bear Country retheming, among the attractions that were proposed for this
Disneyland enhancement were a …


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  • Song of the South log flume adventure utilizing many of the America
    Sings
    critters as well as star characters from Mickey Mouse Revue.
  • (a theme park version of Hal Holbrook‘s acclaimed one-man-show) Mark Twain Tonight
    using the front Country Bear Theatre. A Town Hall façade could
    be added to the berm, where the overflow queue is. Thus two attractions could
    be operated (inside of the) existing (structure).
  • (An) Aunt Polly’s (restaurant which would serve) country dinners
    (out) on Polly’s porch. (This would involve a) complete restyle on the Hungry
    Bear Restaurant
    .
  • Tom Sawyer’s Island rafts – new location in the woods at the
    foot of Aunt Polly’s (replaces canoes)

By the time the Disneyland expansion committee reconvened
in February of 1982, Baxter and his team had further refined their ideas for
this proposed Bear Country redo. Among the ideas that were talked about at this
particular meeting was:


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  • Transforming the ground-floor level of the Hungry Bear into a dinner /
    entertainment venue like Pioneer Hall at WDW’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.
  • Creating a “Fox and the Hound” -themed ride-through attraction where Guests
    would board cars similar to the Model T that Amos Slade drove and then roll
    past recreations of scenes from this 1981 Walt Disney Animation Studios production.

Adding a new show scene featuring Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn
to the Rivers of America which would then reinforce the new rural South theming
of Bear Country.


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The only problem with this plan was that it was going to
take at least six months to develop. Plus an additional 15 months to produce
all of the necessary show elements as well as complete the on-site construction
phase. Now when you factor in the estimated costs of this retheming (which was reportedly
north of $30 million) as well as all of the other Disneyland projects that had to
take precedence (EX: New Fantasyland) … It was looking like the earliest that
this revised version of Bear Country could come on line was June of 1991. And
in the meantime, attendance levels for the Disneyland version of the “Country
Bear Jamboree” show continued to steadily erode month after month after month

Enter Dave Feiten and Michael Sprout, who – at that time – were newer, younger
members of the staff at WED. More importantly, these two had a very different
idea than Tony Baxter when it came to solving Disneyland’s Bear Country
problem.

As Sprout told Betsy Richman in an interview of the Winter 1985 issue of Disney
News magazine
:


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“(Dave and I) both really like Country Bear Jamboree, and
talking about it one day, we decided that those poor bears must get tired of
singing those same songs over and over. We decided to try our hand at developing
a concept for a new show that would place the bears in an entirely different
context.”

Feiten then elaborated on the approach that he and Sprout
took while developing their concept for a new Country Bear show:

 “We treated the bears
as a repertory company, and wrote a new play for them. Costumes, scenery,
songs, dialogue and movement are the elements of the show, and once we changed
those, we had the equivalent of a skilled troupe of actors cast in a new play.
Each bear fit into his or her role so easily, it wasn’t hard to think of ways
that they’d talk, dress or sing in another environment.”


Dave Feiten at the control board, programming the “Country Bear Christmas Special.”
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

What happened next? Well, as Randy Bright recounted in “Disneyland Inside Story” …

… WDI creative chief Marty Sklar … reviewed some rough
sketches by two young animation programmers. Each sketch took a specific
Audio-Animatronic Country Bear performers and added new costumes, scenery,
songs and dialogue, all on the theme of Christmas. Could an existing facility
and a familiar set of characters be successfully transformed into an all-new
show? The sketches said yes …

Which is why Sklar put this rethemed Audio-Animatronic show
into production in late 1983. Sprout and Feiten worked very closely with George
Wilkins to create the music to “The Country Bear Special,” and – with the exception
of the traditional songs — the lyrics are the result of a close collaboration between
these three.


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 “The Country Bear Christmas
Special” opened on November 23, 1984 at Disneyland as well as WDW’s Magic
Kingdom and immediately became a hit with theme park visitors. So much so that
Sklar supposedly ordered Feiten & Sprout to write a second, more-long-lived
show for Grizzly Hall / Country Bear Playhouse. Which is why Dave & Michael reunited with
George to write the “Country Bear Vacation Hoedown” show, which premiered at
both theme parks in February of 1986.

What’s more, Feiten & Sprout also allegedly dummied up concepts
for Halloween & St. Valentine’s Day “Country Bear” shows which WDI was
thinking of putting into production. But then …

Well, the way I heard it, the classic traffic pattern at
Disneyland held. In that Guests would go to the new “Country Bear” show for the
first year or so, but then — after that — the attendance levels for this revamped
Bear Country attraction would steadily erode. That coupled with the fact that
it took the Imagineers three weeks and a reported $50,000 every time they
changed out this show … And you can see why the management team in Anaheim
quickly lost their enthusiasm for WDI’s let’s-seasonally-change-out-the-show-in-the-Country-Bear-Playhouse
idea.


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In short, the folks at Disneyland were looking for a bigger, more permanent
solution to their Bear Country problem. Which is where “Splash Mountain” and
Critter Country came in.

Anyway … That’s the story of how the “Country Bear Christmas
Special” came to be. If you – like me – still miss this seasonal show (which
was last presented at Walt Disney World in 2005) … Well, there’s always Tokyo
Disneyland. Which is where the “Jingle Bell Jamboree” (i.e. that’s the name which
this Country Bear holiday show goes by at that theme park) has been presented seasonally
since 1988.

Beyond that … Well, I’m kind of hoping that – as part of the
history-of-the-Country-Bear-Jamboree presentation that he’s scheduled to give on
board the California Zephyr in March of next year as part of Roger Colton’s “Walt’s
Sierra Adventures” train excursion – David Feiten will talk about what the
Halloween & St. Valentine’s Day versions of Country Bear would have been
like.


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So does anyone else out there have fond memories of the “Country
Bear Christmas Special?” I mean, I can’t be the only person who smiled whenever
he heard this exchange.

HENRY: I sure do enjoy singin’ with you, Teddi.
TEDDI: Why, thank you, Henry.  Y’all
wanna come up and sign my cast?
HENRY: Soon as I can find a pen, I’ll be there.

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  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.

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“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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