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The whole world … except the Disney Company … wants to wish you a Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

Wade Sampson returns with a look at why the Disney Company isn’t exactly celebrating Mickey’s milestone birthday, but instead is just looking back at “75 Years with Mickey.”



The Disney Company is not celebrating Mickey Mouse’s birthday today.

According to Chris Curtin of Synergy and Special Projects: “We particularly worry about this when it comes to children, whose understanding and appreciation of our characters can be undermined by suggesting they have real-world ages. As a company, we feel our characters are timeless and therefore don’t mark the passage of time. We do, however, celebrate anniversaries of real-world events, as they can be effective marketing tools — especially with adult fans who like the idea that Disney has been around a long time.” (examples: the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth in 2001, Animal Kingdom’s 5th anniversary, etc.).

That is why the Disney Company is saying that it is not Mickey Mouse’s 75th birthday but that the Company in a smaller fashion is celebrating “75 Years WITH Mickey”. That was not always the case. During the past seventy-five years, celebrating Mickey’s birthday was a major event for the Disney Company and resulted in much publicity and many financial rewards and of course, many appreciative Disney fans.

In the September 30, 1933 edition of FILM PICTORIAL, Walt Disney stated “Mickey Mouse will be five years old on Sunday. He was born on October 1, 1928. That was the date on which his first picture started so we have allowed him to claim this day as his birthday.”

Mickey Mouse’s seventh birthday was celebrated on September 28, 1935 and his fortieth on October 28, 1968. Up until the 1970s, Mickey’s birthday was celebrated anywhere between September and December whenever there was a new Disney cartoon being released or to stage a birthday party event at a theater which usually included the theater booking a program of several previously released Disney cartoons.

Dave Smith established the Disney Archives in 1970 and with Mickey’s Fiftieth birthday coming up in 1978, it was Dave who determined that the official date should be the premiere of STEAMBOAT WILLIE at the Colony Theater in New York. After checking through correspondence, reviews from New York newspapers and finally finding a program from the Colony Theater listing the Mickey Mouse cartoon, it was determined that Mickey’s official birthday would be November 18, 1928. (That also makes it Minnie’s official birthday as well.)

In 1933, Mickey’s fifth birthday was celebrated by a Hollywood testimonial party where the speakers included Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Will Rogers. Mickey’s seventh birthday was promoted as “Mickey Mouse’s Lucky Seventh Birthday” and the Disney Studio encouraged theaters to book Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons as a special program. In fact, every available print of Disney cartoons were in use during the celebration. Theaters served birthday cake, held costume parties (with free admission for any patron dressed as a Disney character), and there were even adult dinner parties held in cities like New York and London.

Disney historian Jim Fanning has pointed out that for Mickey’s seventh birthday that “a special song-a fox trot-was composed in honor of the birthday boy: MICKEY MOUSE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY. (‘There’s Minnie dressed in her Sunday best, and Donald Duck with his quack, quack, quack…’). It was recorded by Guy Lombardo and his orchestra.”

Mickey’s eighth birthday was also a big celebration with theaters offering prizes for Disney costumes, coloring and essay contests. The prizes? Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck dolls from Charlotte Clark and her crew personally autographed by Walt Disney! Radio City Music Hall hosted a week long salute by running three Disney cartoons as part of every show.

Over the years, it addition to birthday celebrations at theaters, the Disney Studios produced two animated shorts spotlighting Mickey Mouse’s birthday.

In THE BIRTHDAY PARTY (January 7, 1931) directed by Bert Gillett, this black and white cartoon finds Mickey’s friends (including Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow) surprising Mickey with the gift of a piano for his birthday. Mickey and Minnie sing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” and there is some wild dancing. Lots of generic animal friends join in the celebration.

In MICKEY’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (February 7, 1942) directed by Riley Thompson in beautiful technicolor and featuring some classic Mickey animation by Freddie Moore has Minnie and the gang throwing a surprise birthday party for Mickey. This time Mickey receives an organ instead of a piano and there is a wild rhumba dance and besides Horace and Clarabelle, Donald and Goofy (neither of whom existed at the time of the original 1931 short join the festivities) join the festivities. This is the cartoon with Goofy struggling to bake a cake using “volcano heat” on the oven.

In 1953, Capitol Records produced a “record-reader” entitled MICKEY MOUSE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY (DBX 3165) to celebrate Mickey’s Silver Anniversary of being twenty-five years young. A “record-reader” was a two record set accompanied by a storybook and some cue like the sound of a bell or a horn let a child know when to turn the page so that the sounds on the record would match the story. (In this case, Mickey Mouse coaxed Donald Duck to give the signal to turn the page.) Donald’s voice was done by Clarence Nash and Goofy’s voice was done by Pinto Colvig who even though he had left the Disney Studio was connected with Capitol Records as he was then the current voice of Bozo the Clown who appeared on several “record-readers”. Colvig also recreated the voice of Practical Pig on the album. Jimmy MacDonald gave voice to Cinderella’s mice, Jaq and Gus Gus as well as supplying the barks for Pluto (who does a “soft paw” dance rather than soft shoe for Mickey’s celebration).

And of course, the voice of Mickey Mouse was provided by…Stan Freberg. Yes, satirist Stan Freberg who was also well known in the industry for his cartoon voice work (especially for Warner Brothers) did Mickey’s voice which sounded like Mickey Mouse with a cold since Freberg wasn’t able to reach the right falsetto range for the famous mouse. Freberg also did a killer imitation on the record of Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter and Jerry Colonna’s March Hare among other voices.

Back in 1996, Stan told me, “Walt Disney was always the voice of Mickey, when he was alive, but when he was too busy, his sound effects wizard Jimmy MacDonald did it. Once, when Capitol Records was recording a children’s album called MICKEY MOUSE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY and both Walt and Jimmy were busy, Walt asked me to record Mickey’s voice: ‘Hi, Minnie, hi Pluto, Happy Birthday! Ha-ha, ha-ha, ha-ha!'”

Since Jimmy MacDonald was there at the recording session, it is more likely that Stan wanted to do Mickey’s voice and Walt and Jimmy graciously allowed him to do so. It is an odd album with the Three Little Pigs, B’rer Rabbit, B’rer Fox, B’rer Bear, Dumbo, Thumper, Bambi, Joe Carioca, Cinderella, Alice, the White Rabbit, Peter Pan (and the infamous crocodile even stops chasing Captain Hook long enough to sing “Never Smile at a Crocodile” which was a song written for PETER PAN but never used) and many more.

In September 1953, DELL Comics even printed a special one hundred page comic book “giant” entitled MICKEY MOUSE BIRTHDAY PARTY with *** Moores drawing a cover of Mickey Mouse by a birthday cake where the candles were actually Disney characters. The interior included reprints from several FOUR COLOR issues (#181, #27 and #79) as well as some reformatted Mickey Mouse comic strips from 1941 by Gottfredson and Bill Wright.

Mickey’s Silver Anniversary in 1953 was also the first time that Imagineer John Hench painted a “formal portrait” for Mickey. Hench also painted the official Mickey Mouse portraits for Mickey’s 50th (1978) and 60th (1988) and 75th birthdays (2003). (Walt Disney Art Classics, the art and collectibles division of The Walt Disney Company, commissioned Hench to render Mickey in an official portrait commemorating his 70th birthday. The portrait was published as a limited edition print in December of 1998 and was an instant sell-out.)

Mickey’s 50th birthday was a year long celebration in 1978 and generated not only an official “Happy Birthday, Mickey” logo but a variety of commemorative merchandise. There were retrospective screenings of Mickey’s cartoons at several venues from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to the American Film Institute to the Chicago Film Festival. Animator Ward Kimball accompanied Mickey on a special Amtrak train for a fifty-seven city tour. The tour ended at the Broadway Theater (formerly the Colony Theater) where a plaque designating the theater as the official birthplace of Mickey Mouse was installed. (Seven huge scrapbooks in the Disney Archives are filled with newspaper clippings from the year long event.) In addition, Mickey received his star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, making him the first cartoon character to ever receive a star. People were singing a specially written song: “The Whole World Wants to Wish You Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse.”

Disney also saluted Mickey’s birthday on television. MICKEY MOUSE ANNIVERSARY SHOW (12/22/68) had Dean Jones hosting Mickey’s 40th birthday along with the original Mouseketeers. MICKEY’S 50th (11/19/78) had celebrities like Johnny Carson and Jonathan Winters honoring Walt’s mouse and MICKEY’S 60th (11/13/88) had Mickey fooling with a sorcerer’s hat and disappearing, forcing Roger Rabbit to try and find him, while “news reporter” John Ritter offered commentary and updates.

In fact, Mickey’s Sixtieth birthday rivaled Mickey’s Fiftieth.

From Summer 1988 through Spring 1990, as the Walt Disney World railroad trains steamed toward their newest train station just past Fantasyland, guests would have heard:

“We’re rolling, we’re rolling on the Express!
We’re rolling on Mickey’s Birthdayland Express!
We’re going off to Mickey’s Birthdayland!
And we’re so glad that you could come along and join the gang!

We’ll have a whole lot of fun! (laughs)

[Chip & Dale]
So come on everyone!
We’ve got a big surprise for Mickey Mouse!
It’s all aboard the express bound for Birthdayland!
We have a date with Mickey Mouse’s Birthdayland!
We’ll have a whole lot of fun!
So come on everyone!
We’ve got a big surprise for Mickey Mouse!
We’ve got a big surprise for Mickey!
A birthday bash for Mickey!
Big surprise for Mickey Mouse!
We’re rolling, we’re rolling on the Express!”

This station originally opened in 1988 as Mickey’s Birthdayland Station. Featuring a covered waiting platform, the open-air station provided guests easy access to the new land, Mickey’s Birthdayland, celebrating Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday. (The station was renamed Mickey’s Starland Station in 1990, and Mickey’s Toontown Fair Station in 1996, in keeping with the new names for this area of the park.) Mickey’s Birthdayland was the first new “land” added to Walt Disney World since its opening and was built in less than a year as a temporary location to meet Mickey Mouse and his friends and get autographs. The area was themed as if it was part of Duckburg with small store front facades hiding the colored tents. A show took place there as well, with Mickey as the unsuspecting guest of honor at his very own surprise party.

A sixty-eight page slick magazine (MICKEY IS SIXTY) with a special edition “cel” of Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice was published with excerpts from this magazine appearing in TIME, LIFE, PEOPLE and more. Ear Force One (a hot air balloon in the shape of Mickey’s head) toured the United States. The Disney Company planted a 520 acre cornfield in Sheffield, Iowa in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. The concept was that when the field was seen from an airplane overhead it would look like a birthday card for Mickey from Minnie. (This idea was the brainchild of Jack Linquist who was then Disney creative marketing vice president.) Again, a special Mickey Mouse birthday logo was created and a flood of nicely done commemorative merchandise honoring both the classic Mickey and the modern Mickey.

Today (November 18) in a private ceremony, Michael Eisner will unveil for the media seventy-five Mickey Mouse statues that each stand six feet tall and weigh seven hundred pounds. They were designed by a mix of celebrities including Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Ben Affleck, Susan Lucci,etc. Those who participated in the design created the Mickey Mouse statues to fit one of six themes: heritage, adventure, magic and fantasy, fun and laughter, friendship, and the future.

The statues will be displayed at various locations on Walt Disney World property through April 2004 and then will travel to twelve U.S. cities on an eighteen month tour sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. After the tour, the statues will be auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting a charity of each artist’s choice. The program is called “Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations”.

There have always been rumors that Disney hates the “graying of the Mouse” (the aging of its top executives who have been encouraged to leave the Disney Company during the last few years) and poor Mickey Mouse seems like he may be the latest victim. Hopefully, the weak treatment of Mickey’s milestone birthday is not a foreshadowing of the upcoming Disneyland Golden Celebration in 2005. Happy birthday, Mickey! You are seventy-five years YOUNG.

I would like to acknowledge the previous research on this subject by Jim Fanning, John Cawley (the most under-rated man in the animation business) and the ever amazing Jim Korkis. Speaking of Jim Korkis, I would like to publicly apologize to Jim for borrowing some of his research on Emile Kuri in my previous column without crediting him. And for those of you who miss Jim’s writing on things Disney, make sure you track down a member of the Disney Vacation Club. Jim writes a monthly exclusive column on all things Disney for the DVC e-mail newsletter including a series on the stories behind the names on the Main Street windows!

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



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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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