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Is Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland” movie about that “UFOs are real” TV show which Walt Disney Productions almost made back in the 1950s?



For  three weeks now,
photos of a mysterious bankers box have been making the rounds on the Web. Brad
and Damon Lindelof reportedly deliberately put these images out there to
help whet people's appetites for "Tomorrowland," the sci-fi -themed
project that these two wrote which is based on a concept that Lindelof and
"Entertainment Weekly" writer Jeff Jensen originally came up with.

"So what's this motion picture actually supposed to be
about?," you ask. Well, as Matthew Jackson recounted in his October 2012 article for
Blastr, "Tomorrowland" 's origin can be traced back to …

… a 2011 meeting between Lindelof and Disney exec Sean Bailey.
During that meeting, Bailey apparently brought out a box dating back to the
days of WED Enterprises, Walt Disney's personal development lab that later gave
birth to Disney's "Imagineers." The box was originally labeled
"That Darn Cat
," but had been relabeled "1952." Inside were
materials related to some long since abandoned Disney project (maybe a movie,
maybe a ride) about aliens.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Earlier this week over on the D23 website, Walt Disney
Archives director Becky Cline took a closer look at that photograph of the
contents of this box which Brad & Damon had put out there. And she then
identified several specific items which I've highlighted below:

  • On the top there are some old photos. The three that I can
    see are of Walt with visitors, probably taken here at the studio. The one on
    top is in our photo collection and I was able to identify the man with him as
    Major Woodlief of the U.S. Army Reserve General Fund. It was taken in September

  • There is a blue paperback book in the box.

  • The magazine that appears along with this curious collection
    of documents and objects provides more clues. It is a copy of the science
    fiction magazine Amazing Stories from August 1928.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

  • There are two slide boxes in the box, one features the
    Technicolor logo; the writing on the other white slide box is indecipherable.

  • There is a 45 rpm record that appears to be a master disc.
    It is probably from the '40s or early '50s (these type of records pre-date
    magnetic tape recording). It's definitely not the kind of record that is
    pressed and sold to the public. Unfortunately, its handwritten label is too
    blurry to decipher.

So let's review those clues again. We have a picture of Walt
Disney meeting with a senior U.S. military official. We have a blue book. We have a
science fiction magazine entitled "Amazing Stories." And we have a
mystery box with a "1952" label stuck on its side that's filled with
photographs & recordings from the late 1940s / early 1950s.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

To borrow a phrase that's heard most every night on
"Wheel of Fortune," "I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat."
Based on the evidence in this photograph as well as info that has previously
leaked out about this Brad Bird / Damon Lindelof project, I believe that
"Tomorrowland" has something to do with Project Blue Book, the program that the U.S. Air Force launched in late 1952 / early 1953 for the investigation of unidentified flying objects.

And to now get really, really specific here, I believe that
this upcoming Walt Disney Pictures release (which is due to hit theaters on
December 19, 2014) uses a  behind-the-scenes story that the late Ward
loved to tell as its jumping-off point. Where — during the mid-1950s
— the U.S.
government supposedly approached Walt Disney and then asked for his help in
producing a TV show that would eventually be used to break the news to the
American public that UFOS are real.

Which — I know — sounds kind of bizarre. But you have to
remember that — back during World War II — Walt Disney Studios made all sorts
of training films for the U.S.
military. And many of these movies made use of classified
material. And given the care & discretion that Disney staffers had shown
while working on these super-secret training films … Well, it would only
stand to reason that — were military officials looking for someone in
Hollywood to help produce a television program of a highly sensitive nature
which would then have to be shot in utter secrecy … Given that the brass at
the Pentagon already had this history / working relationship with Walt, it would only make
sense that they'd reach out to Walt Disney Productions when it came to a
super-secret project like this.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

I know, I know. This all sounds rather far fetched. But you
have to understand — when it comes to the really-for-real history of The Walt
Disney Company during the mid-1950s — truth is often stranger than fiction.
Take — for example — the stories that Ward Kimball used to tell about his
interaction with senior military officials while he was working on those
"Man in Space" episodes
for the "Disneyland"
TV series

FYI: If you'd like to read an exact transcript of this
UFO-related, you can find it in Volume 11
"Walt's  People." Which
is Didier Ghez's excellent series of books which has made hundreds of rare
interviews with Disney Legends available to the general public to read.

Anyway … The interview that we're talking about today was
done by noted animation historian John Canemaker. And as Ward was talking with
John, Kimball recalled the time when he was working with German-American rocket
scientist Wernher von Braun on three space travel-themed episodes of the "Disneyland"
television series. Which — just to re-enforce the connective tissue here
between the way-out story that Ward loved to tell and the film that Brad &
Damon are now making — that trio of episodes (i.e. "Man in Space,"
"Man and the Moon" and "Mars and Beyond") — were initially
presented to the public under that TV show's "Tomorrowland" banner.

Copyright 2012 Xlibris Corp. All rights reserved

When "Man in Space" — the first of these
Tomorrowland inspired episodes — aired on ABC back in March of 1955, it racked
up enormous ratings. Over 42 million people tuned in to watch this  speculative documentary about how man might
eventually travel into space. In fact, to hear some members of the Eisenhower
administration talk, this particular episode of the "Disneyland"
television show actually played a key role in America's
decision to finally enter the space race.

Anywho … Getting back now to those ridiculously  high ratings that the initial airing of
"Man in Space" racked up. As  Kimball
recounted to Canemaker, this …

… did not go unnoticed by Al Meyers and (Edward)
Heinemann, two big shots in Douglas Aircraft, plus George Hoover, who was head
of the office of naval research. (They) came to me and wanted Disney to do a UFO

Ward Kimball introducing the "Man in Space" episode of the
"Disneyland" TV show. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

(These three) all knew that UFOs were for real. They had
proof, they had everything. And I said, "Sure." I'd been collecting
material on UFOs for years anyway, and I had a cupboard full of stuff there.
Every report and all the books, you name it. I was a student of Charles Fort,
and that was my dream to end the ("Disneyland"
television series of outer space documentaries) with (a fourth film about

Walt sort of went along with it. But we never had any payoff
footage. You've got to end up that last ten minutes with some real stuff.

Our disappointment came when we talked to Colonel Miranda
from the Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base]. Bill Bosché (i.e. the writer that
Walt had assigned to work with Ward on these outer space documentaries for the
"Disneyland" television series) never believed in UFOs even though
Clyde Tombaugh, the guy that discovered the planet Pluto, had seen four or five
in Arizona  … 

The commissary at Walt Disney Studios in the late 1940s / early
1950s. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So we're having lunch with this Colonel Miranda over in the
commissary, and he, at Wright-Patterson, had all the footage shot from fighter
pilots, everything, and most of it classified. He told us what we could have
for our picture and what we couldn't have.

And so Bosché … He gets a smile on his face and he says,
"What about flying saucers? I don't suppose you have anything on
that?"  (And then Miranda replies by
saying) "Oh, hundreds of feet!" (And) Old Bosché looked like he'd

(The Colonel continues by saying) "We've got all sorts
of film that we can't show you, it's secret, and it's going to remain
classified until we can take one apart and analyze it."

File photograph from one of Project Blue Book's public meetings

And he [Bosché] says, "Well, how come?" And that's
when (Miranda) taught us our lesson, he says, "Look! Everyone would ask
the Air Force, 'What are these things?' And if we couldn't answer that
question, we would be in trouble. We could have a war start. They would accuse
the Russians of doing it, they're ahead of us." He went through a whole
line of reasons why this couldn't be divulged.

(Which was endlessly frustrating for Kimball. Especially since
the Colonel then went on to say that) 
"We have shots (of UFOS) taken from gun cameras, we have beautiful
footage. We've got 'em all shapes and size, port holes, lights …  (But) We don't know what they are yet. Until
we can dissect (one), and give a reasonable explanation without our society
coming unglued, we can't. It's going to remain classified."

Which kind of drove Kimball nuts. Given that Ward had
already done a lot of the research necessary for this proposed fourth outer space
documentary for the "Disneyland" TV
series.  As Kimball recalled to

Do these Egyptian hieroglyphics depict unidentified flying objects?

And I had everything up to the last ten minutes (of that
show) … We had these drawings that people have made (of)  the spaceships that had passed for a good
part of a day over the Egyptian army in Egypt in 2000 B.C. They described the
stench and the fumes, the whole thing; it was even done in hieroglyphics. We
wanted to bring that to life (through animation). Great thing, you know.
Pictorially, it (would have been)  a wonderful
thing to do.

But without the last 10 minutes of that show, which was to
have featured the Air Force's footage proving that UFOs were in fact real …
This proposed fourth installment of the outer space documentary series just had
no pay-off.

So what if the contents of this "1952" box that
we've all seen around the Web over the past three weeks was all of that
research material which Ward supposedly pulled together for this never-produced
fourth "Man in Space" episode? And what if someone working at Walt
Disney Studios today were to have suddenly come across this stuff? A box full
of slides & recordings which proved that the Company had, back in the 1950s, almost made a television show that would have proven to the American people that
UFOs are real? Wouldn't that be a great MacGuffin to build a motion picture

"Tomorrowland" writer / producer Damon Lindelof

There's only one problem with this theory.  Given the numerous questions that Damon
Lindelof had been getting about the mysterious contents of this
"1952" box and what they all might possibly mean, he took to Twitter
back on January 28th to say

[Brad and I] won't tell you what [our movie is] about (yet),
but we will tell you what it's NOT about. And that would be ALIENS.

Of course, if "Tomorrowland" does in fact touch on
the history of Project Blue Book (i.e. that investigative group which
the U.S. Air Force set up in early 1953 after UFOs had repeatedly been seen in the night sky over Washington DC during the Summer of 1952), wouldn't it stand to reason that — were Damon looking
to throw would-be cinema sleuths off the scent here —  Lindelof would then channel his inner Air Force
Officer and, in the spirit of Project Blue Book, insist that
"Tomorrowland" had absolutely nothing to do with aliens?

Cover of an actual Project Blue Book report

That said, to give Damon some plausible deniability to this
scenario, please note that — in his posting on Twitter — Lindelof said that
"Tomorrowland" is not about ALIENS. At no time does Damon say that
this December 2014 Walt Disney Pictures release isn't investigating the
possible existence of unidentified flying objects.

Okay. That's a fine distinction to make. But it is worth

It's also worth noting here that — right after he graduated
from the California Institute of the Arts — Brad Bird's very first job in
animation was at Walt Disney Studios. Where Brad worked (albeit briefly) on
WDAS's 1981 release, "The Fox and the Hound

Brad Bird behind the camera onset for "Mission: Impossible — Ghost
Protocol." Copyright 2011 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

And given what Walt Disney Productions was like back during
those pre-Michael Eisner days (i.e. a smallish movie studio whose best years
really seemed to be behind it. A sleepy collection of 1940s-era administrative
buildings & soundstages hidden behind high walls in the quiet corner of
Burbank) … It's not all hard to imagine that a young Brad Bird might have spent
a lot of his free time wandering the halls of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Maybe opening a few closets and coming across a couple of bankers boxes just  like the one that he & Damon Tweeted pictures
of back in late January.

More to the point, Brad did actually know Ward. In the
foreword that Bird wrote for Amid Amidi's yet-to-be-released biography of
Kimball, "Full Steam Ahead: The Life and Art of Ward Kimball" (Chronicle
, Summer 2013), he mentions that …

Over the years I saw Kimball at various events and talked to
him many times …

Copyright 2013 Chronicles Books. All rights reserved

So who knows? Maybe Ward himself told Brad about Disney's
never-produced "UFOs are real" television show? And maybe Bird then
shared this story with Lindelof?

Either way, given the specific items that Walt Disney
Archives director Becky Cline spotted in that bankers box as well as that Sean
Bailey / long lost WED box story that Matthew Jackson shared with Blastr readers back in October of last year,
I'm thinking that — at this point — the evidence at hand  strongly suggests that this
soon-to-begin-shooting George Clooney movie is going to be using this seemingly
forgotten, fantastic piece of Walt Disney Company history as the jumping-off
point for a brand-new sci-fi adventure.

Of course, your mileage may vary. But what do you folks
think? Have I properly interpreted the clues that Damon & Brad have placed
before us? Or do you have a theory of your own what "1952 /
Tomorrowland" might be about?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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.

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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.

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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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