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Travel Mascots

JHM guest columnist Dale Ward takes a look at that intriguing phenomenon: gnome-napping.



What is it about a lawn gnome that brings out the prankster in so many of us? Is it their magical nature? Is it their neutral position in the argument over lawn aesthetic or arbiter of bad taste? Could it be they’re infused with the earth spirits they were named for, or is it because it’s the only thing your neighbors own that isn’t guarded by an alarm and a Doberman? I’m going with the less poetic, alarm and Doberman answer.

Gnome nabbing was once, nothing more than a destructive prank. A gnome was stolen, just to be abused, spray painted, batted, dragged, drilled and launched. When a battered gnome was returned, it was seldom in the same shape it was in before it disappeared. Early pranksters hadn’t caught on to the notion that if both sides see the humor, it’s that much funnier.

Fortunately for both gnomes and their owners, gnome nabbing took an incredibly inventive and artistic turn. What started as theft and destruction of personal property evolved into an elaborate gag that has turned into a cultural phenom and cottage industry.

Once upon a gnome

The earliest descriptions of gnomes were as spirits, formless energy that roamed beneath the surface of the Earth. These spirits had an aversion to the sun; a single ray would turn them to stone. Over time the stories of the spirits evolved into stories of a race of teeny tiny people who lived in burrows just below the surface of the Earth. Since the teeny people had a very lucky mojo, small, crude, clay effigies were put in fields and gardens as a blessing for the land. Some historians believe the early clay pieces were also considered fertility charms but that changes the symbolism of their red hats in ways I’d rather not think about.

The first manufactured clay garden gnome (“der Gartenzwerg”) was made in Grafenroda, Thuringia, Germany in the early 1800’s. Part decoration and part good luck charm, gnomes were a predominantly German tradition… Until Sir Charles.

The eccentrics’ garden

On a March weekend in 1995 nearly 8,000 people passed through the doors of the Robert McDougal Art Gallery in Christchurch, England to see an exhibition of lawn gnomes. Yes, I said lawn gnomes. Close to 300 different gnomes were arranged in a “parade” down a center court of the gallery for viewing. The gnomes were the centerpiece of the first International Gnome Convention. The brainchild of the exhibition was Gnomologist Henry Sunderland.

For Sunderland, gnomes aren’t just lawn decorations, they’re environmental symbols; a funny and gentle reminder to be nicer to Mother Nature. Harry’s first environmental gnome use was when he left “Charlie” at the South Pole in 1976. The South Pole gnomesicle now has 2 dozen friends, with each trip getting a few column inches. The Gnome Convention served the same purpose while also bringing many international gnome collectors together for the first time.

While the convention gnomes were from all over the world, a crowd favorite was a sort of, hometown boy. Though not directly from Christchurch, the gnome known as Lampy is from England. In an army of gnomes, Lampy stands out because of his pedigree and price tag.

In the middle of Northhamptonshire county in England sits Lamport Hall. Bought by John Ishman in 1560, it remained the Isman family home for over 400 years. The hall began as a Tudor manor but, in 1655 architect John Webb was hired to add a new 2 story wing. In the three hundred years that followed, Lamport Hall was redesigned and expanded a generation at a time to look like the classic English country estate it has become.

Inside, the Isham family has amassed quite a collection. John Isham and his son collected rare books and the fourth baronet of Lamport made a grand tour of Europe to furnish the home with paintings and rare antiques. Recognizing the halls’, social and historical significance, Sir Gyles Isham, the twelfth and final Baronet of Lamport, bequeathed the hall and its contents to a charitable trust which now administers the estate. Its architectural design and decor make Lamport a national gem but by far the most unusual item in its vast collection and arguably, it’s most famous, has to be Lampy, the first million dollar garden gnome.

To be more accurate, Lampy is insured for one million pounds. Using the current rate of exchange he would actually be worth about 1 million eight hundred thousand dollars. Why, in God’s name would any garden gnome be worth almost two million smackers? Is he jewel encrusted? Was he part of an insidious plot to depose the queen? No, he was simply England’s first.

Sir Charles Ishman was the 10th Baronet of Lamport Hall. As a vegetarian and a practicing spiritualist, he was considered something of an eccentric. He had inherited a love of gardening from his mother and sometime in the mid 1840’s, Charles decided he wanted to design a garden on the grounds at Lamport. Being a bit offbeat, he chose an unusual theme. He chose an Alpine garden with a rockery. He imported over 20 lawn gnomes from Germany and gave them tools as if they were working the rock garden as a mine. The gnomes were the first known in England and many gardeners found them enchanting. Sir Charles had started a minor garden fad.

The gnomes were disliked by Charles daughters so, after his death, all the gnomes were removed…or so they thought. One gnome managed to survive in a nearly hidden niche in the rocks. By the time he was finally discovered, all the other gnomes had been tossed so Lampey was the last of his early kind and a rather significant garden artifact. Lampey now travels to the occasional gnome and garden show in his own special case. He also has a gnome handler that travels with him to each show. Considering the amount of gnome nabbings going on around the world, a handler isn’t a bad idea for the ones in your own front yard.

A gnome’s gotta roam

One August day in 2002 Barbara Austin came home from work and found one of her three gnomes missing from her North Carolina front yard. In his place was a plastic bag with a terse note inside that said:

“Gone travelin’. Back later.”

Not long after that that, Barbara received her first photos of “Gnome” traveling across the United States.

On a late summer morning, less than two months after he had left, Gnome was back in the yard, decorated with balloons. He had with him an amazing photo album of his travels and a map to show where he had been. The album contained photos from 28 states, Mexico and Canada. He had posed at national monuments, been to ballgames and visited with pets and various yard ornaments along the way. Gnome had taken a trip of over 11,000 miles, yet the identities of his traveling companions were never revealed.

While no one is able to explain exactly when gnomes went from lawn art to travel companion, the first recorded road trip was in the mid 80’s in Australia. A gnome disappeared from a neighbors lawn and soon after, he began to send notes and photos of his fun in the sun. When he returned, he had a brown shoe polish tan and the first age of travel mascots had begun.

The practice has become so well known that Travelocity launched an 80 million dollar advertising campaign based on the premise. The campaign began in New York with lost and found signs on telephone poles posted by “Bill” looking for his kidnapped gnome. Travelocitys “Roaming Gnome” TV ads now send witty images and travel updates to Bill from various locations across the globe.

There’s gnome business …

Not surprisingly, there are numerous traveling gnome websites. Lawrence the gnome  is a world traveler, while Norm  seems content to roam the United States. There’s also Roaming Gnome  a vacationing gnome community where anyone can upload their gnome travel pix.

Since photographing a small object against a large background is tricky, many of the photos are blurry and amateur, but some of the pictures are accidentally amazing. Mark my words, before the decade is through, some major art gallery or museum will have a show of traveling gnome photography.

While the traveling gnome has become more popular, lawn larceny has played itself out. It’s become more fun to shop for a gnome than to steal one. People scour antique stores, garden centers, online nursery’s and Ebay for the perfect gnome. If you prefer a tiny companion over a garden sized one, maybe Gnomads is what you’re looking for.

Big Boing Toys has given the traveling gnome an internet twist. Called “the first web enabled action figures”, Gnomads are a selection of pocket sized gnomes that not only love to travel, they have their own website where they can blog about it. The four inch tall Gnomads currently come in 4 flavors; A world traveler with suitcases in both hands, a t-shirt wearing tourist with a camera around his neck, a tropical gnome wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sportin’ sunglasses and a Gnomette with a pink hat and a shopping bag. Each Gnomad has a “tracking number” on its foot. By entering the number on an exclusive Gnomads site, you can upload diary excerpts and photos as you travel. Does your Gnomad want to go somewhere you aren’t going? Are you going on a trip and willing to take on travelers? The Gnomad discussion board has an area for Gnomad exchanges. You can send your tiny companion on an adventure without you or have a few friends mailed to you.

While garden gnomes are the poster child for travel mascots, they aren’t the only silly objects to travel.

You want fries with that?

While many of his ilk are being eaten with a Big Mac or served mashed and Au Gratin, Spuds the Canadian tuber is traveling the world. Billed as the world’s most traveled Mr. Potato head, Spuds has visited 28 states and 20 countries and has the photos to prove it. is filled with 16 years of photographs of a potato on vacation. The photographs are all authentic, not Photoshop fakes and spuds’ personal photographer Timm Chapman goes to a lot of trouble on some of these photos. I expect he spends a lot of vacation time crawling around on his hands and knees to get the shots he does. What makes the site fun is fictional stories are told about Spuds adventures in each country.

Where have they bean?

Kevin and Gary were friends that worked for the same company but in offices 150 miles apart. One day after lunch at Chevy’s, a local mexican restaurant, Gary left a doggie bag of beans in Kevin’s car. The beans made the 150 mile drive back to Kevins house. Kevin sent the beans back to Gary who sent them back to Kevin, who sent them back to Gary all via workers who traveled between the offices.

While people appreciated the gag the stench began to cause a gag reflex so the beans were thrown away by a co-worker, and that was the end of it all…Until Kevin bought a can of S&W black beans at the supermarket and the game was afoot once again.

A VP at the company was making a trip to China and offered to take the can of beans with him. He brought back photos of the beans at the Great Wall of China. Now the beans no longer traveled back and forth between just Gary and Kevin, the beans began to travel worldwide. In 2002 Kevin started a website called Beans Around the World ( posting pictures of the can of beans on vacation. While the original can of beans is in semi-retirement, folks from all over, now take a can of

S&W black beans on vacation and send the photos to BATW to be posted on the site. If you can’t find a can, a color label is available for download. Silly? Yes, and that’s just the point. The beans are a photographic diversion meant simply to entertain. Doesn’t it seem fitting that beans are used as internet filler?

When traveling leaves you flat

This year on the red carpet of the Oscars, Clint Eastwood was photographed with a chic and unusual accessory that caught everyone’s attention. No, it wasn’t a man bag, or studded cufflinks, Eastman was photographed with Flat Stanley.

One night in the Stone Age known as the 1960’s, Jeff Brown was trying to get his two boys to sleep. The youngest, J.C. was stalling to keep his dad in the room. When he had run out of excuses, he ran one last desperate ploy. He told his dad he was afraid the bulletin board over his bed may fall on him. Brown assured his son the bulletin board wouldn’t fall and even if it did it would take so long, he would wake up in the morning with the board on top of him, jokingly he added: “When you wake up in the morning, you’ll probably be flat.” The joke got a big laugh and for the next few nights, the three made up stories of what would happen if you were flat.

At the suggestion of a friend, Brown wrote Flat Stanley as a kids book. In the book, Stanley wakes up under a bulletin board to discover he’s not quite an inch thick. Among his adventures, his brother flies him like a kite and his parents mail him to friends in California.

In 1995 Dale Hubert was a 6th grade teacher in Ontario Canada about to have his first 3rd grade class. In searching for a project that might encourage reluctant readers, Hubert read Flat Stanley. The story of being mailed to California caught his imagination and he began to form a plan. He had one of his old 6th grade students teach him some basic HTML and created a small website. He got the help of 6 schools in the United States and 7 in Canada and began a Flat Stanley exchange program.

Each student from a participating class would make a flat Stanley and send it along with a blank journal. When you received a Flat Stanley, the idea was to treat him like a guest, treating him to places you liked and adventures that were unique to your area. At the end of his trip, you filled in the journal with your shared adventures and , on occasion sent along photos.

The program now in its tenth year has over 6,000 participating classrooms in 34 countries. Flat Stanleys have orbited the Earth in Challenger and ridden a Yak in Tibet. Stanley has been photographed with two U.S. presidents and now, walked the red carpet at the Oscars.

While the Flat Stanley Project, is reserved for accredited schools during the school year, many personal Stanleys visit Disneyland every summer. Just because Stanley is educationally minded doesn’t mean he quits writing in his journal or having fun in the summer.

By the way, if you’re wondering why Flat Stanley was with Clint Eastwood ? Stanley had been drawn by one of Clint’s daughters for her 3rd grade class.

In Part 2 of Travel Mascots, I’ll give a few tips for choosing your own vacation companion.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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



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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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