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Wednesdays with Wade: A not-so-beautiful tomorrow for the Carousel of Progress

Wade Sampson returns with a full history of the Carousel of Progress, tracing the history of this beloved attraction all the back to its Edison Square days and then musing on COP's uncertain future

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I was recently solicited by two charming young college girls.

 

No, it's not want you think.

These two lovely young ladies had contacted me — along with several other prominent Disney historians like Dave Smith, Jim Korkis and Paul Anderson — with the hope that we'd then sign their save the "Carousel of Progress" petition.

So why are these college girls (Who weren't even born when the first three versions of "Carousel of Progress" entertained guests) so passionate about saving an attraction that has been rumored to be on the chopping block for the last five years? Perhaps it was Melissa Kratish (Who writes a column at www.mickeynews.com) who best summarized the situation when she wrote:

"Wanting to preserve the magic that I grew up with, I found myself as one of those people always petitioning against the closure of classic attractions such as 'Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,' 'The World of Motion' and 'Dreamflight!' When my all time favorite attraction, 'Horizons,' permanently closed its doors in 1999, I went into a state of shock! Granted, I was only thirteen, but I remember whining like a maniac to my mother, expressing the concern of my future children, my children’s children, and so on and so forth, never being able to experience the magic and wonder of 'Horizons.' "

Why does "Carousel of Progress" generate such loyalty from Disneyphiles? "There was more of Walt in the Carousel of Progress show than in anything else we've done," remarked Admiral Joe Fowler in an interview with Disney Historian Paul Anderson.

"Walt was really 'into' the Carousel of Progress show, and the characters in the show. He was really excited with what was happening with Audio-Animatronics. It enabled him to do things that he had never done before. I think that for its time, there was more of Walt in the characters of that show than anything done," asserted Marty Sklar.

 

"When we were designing the thing, Walt couldn't resist getting up and doing the work himself," explained John Hench. "He jumped in the bathtub for the Cousin that was visiting–the guy who invented air conditioning with the fan and block of ice. And he'd say, `What would Cousin Orville do if he were in here?' Walt turned the tub around to face the audience, and he took off his shoes and wiggled his toes to show us. He went through the whole bit. He did several of the acts and even invented dialogue as he went. He was the best storyman, particularly on the small bits of business, and it's the small individual things that you never forget."

Most Disney fans know that the show originated at the 1964 New York World's Fair. For the fair (which wasn't officially a World's Fair because it lasted for two years instead of one), the Disney Company produced four attractions. Surveys showed that 91% of the fair's guests attended at least one of the Disney shows, most of which were later installed at Disneyland. The fair was literally the proving ground for Disney's newest innovation, audio-animatronics, and "Carousel of Progress" for General Electric a prominent showcase for this new technology.

As Disney Legend Harriet Burns points out, "Not only was this the first time we did human figures for audio-animatronics but also dogs and cats." Previously, only simple figures like the Tiki Birds had been created.

General Electric first approached Walt in 1958 with the challenge to "showcase the electrical industry and tell how it has helped the nation to grow and prosper". The result was a planned "Edison Square" with guest walking through four theaters to trace the development and value of electricity located on the other side of Main Street but that never developed further than an intriguing proposal. However, some of those story concepts resulted in the "Progressland" pavilion for GE at the fair.

At night, Progressland's domed roof (designed by Walt's friend, architect Welton Beckett) was aglow with thousands of GE light bulbs, all flashing in breathtaking patterns of color and motion. In fact, the second floor of the three story building move d as the carousel theater rotates from scene to scene and amazingly the light patterns on the roof mimic that same movement.

At the entrance to Progressland, a moving walkway takes the guests upward for not only a great aerial view of the fair but also the entrance to the "Carousel of Progress". Inside the theater, the first scene is a sixty-foot long "Kaleidophonic" display of starburst lights synchronized to the music as the narrator intones:

"Now, most carousels just go 'round and 'round without getting anywhere. But on this one, at every turn, we'll be making progress…dreaming and working and making a better way of life!"

The first scene introduces the audience to the family in 1880 who are enjoying a wonderful life thanks to a man named Tom Edison and a new company called General Electric. The next scene moves the audience to the 1920s, and then the 1940s and finally 1964 with the all electric "Gold Medallion Home" where television shows the same programs but now they are in color. (The show was quite clearly a living commercial for GE and one of my earliest memories of the attraction when it was at Disneyland was father warning the barking dog, "Don't bark at him, Rover. He might be a good customer of General Electric.")

"Progress is something you can't take for granted. It takes a lot of people wanting it and willing to work for it. And now, a new springtime of Progress awaits you…so get your packages, coats, hats, purses and 'spring up' out of your seats and head for the doorway to the future! And please keep moving…don't stand in the way of Progress!"

A moving walkway took the guests upstairs to the "Skydome Spectacular." Standing beneath a 200 foot planetarium dome, the audience is shown the story of man's search for energy from the caveman's first fire all the way to the exploration of nuclear power (without the assistance of Ellen DeGeneres or Bill Nye who tell the same story at Epcot today) and finishes with fierce electrical storms overhead, leaping flames and a sky full of spinning atoms. The exit ramp takes the audience to an actual demonstration of nuclear fusion and a glimpse of "Medallion City," a collection of stylized facades of intriguing homes, stores, and civil and industrial buildings that all showcase the electrical products that are changing the world.

When the Fair ended, Walt Disney had cleverly arranged for many of the attractions to be transported to Disneyland. So "it's a small world," "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln," the transportation system for the Ford Motor Skyway and "Carousel of Progress" made the cross country relocation. Sadly, Walt Disney died in December 1966 and never saw the July 1967 opening of Disneyland's New Tomorrowland with its transplanted General Electric "Carousel of Progress."

In Disneyland, the show concluded not with a "Skydome Spectacular" but with a detailed model for Epcot that was 115 feet wide, 60 feet deep. It had 2,500 moving vehicles, 20,000 trees, 4,500 structures (Walt insisted the interior of the buildings be finished, furnished and lit) and it all came alive as the audiences moved from one side of the room to the other. In fact, the final act of "Carousel of Progress" was re-designed to show the family living in Epcot. (Ever notice the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the centerpiece of Walt's Epcot, seen from the window behind the family at Christmas?)

After running six years in Disneyland, the Carousel of Progress show closed permanently in 1973 when General Electric felt that only repeat visitors were seeing their commercial message and that the new Disney theme park in Florida would be a better billboard.

The Carousel Theater building remained in Disneyland. From 1974 to 1988, the bottom level housed an attraction themed to the Bicentennial entitled "America Sings." Today, the theater houses the disappointing "Innoventions."

In January 1975, the "Carousel of Progress" show found a new home in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. However, it now revolved in an opposite direction than its West Coast counterpart because guests no longer went upstairs to see Walt's Epcot. (A very, very small portion of that model still can be seen if you take the Tomorrowland Transit Authority that us old fogies still refer to as the "PeopleMover.")

Also gone was the song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (which Richard and Robert Sherman actually began life as a song that went "Walt had a dream and that's the start. We followed along…") since General Electric wanted people to buy things now instead of waiting for something better in the future. The Sherman Brothers composed "Now is the Best Time of Your Life." (Also, since Rex Allen, the original voice of the father hadn't done anything for Disney for ten years but had narrated Hanna-Barbera's animated feature "Charlotte's Web" which the Disney Company was upset about, the father's voice was recorded by actor Andrew Duggan. By the way, did you know that actor Preston Hanson was the model for the audio-animatronics father?)

On March 10, 1985, General Electric dropped its sponsorship and the show dropped all references to GE and was slightly revised to keep it up to date. (In 1983, "Horizons" opened at Epcot sponsored by General Electric and a snippet of "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" could be heard in the show as yet another audio-animatronics family revealed the future to Disney guests.)

It closed again in 1993 for a more substantial revision. It reopened in 1994 as "Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress" and included the restoration of "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" as the theme song, and author Jean Shepherd (of "A Christmas Story" fame) as the father and good ol' Rex Allen brought back to record the voice of the grandfather in the final scene. The final scene of course was updated to sixty years in the future from the 1940s where Grandma can enjoy her virtual reality helmet.

The show was "re-imagined" so that every scene was now a holiday instead of just the final one. Valentine's Day, Fourth of July and Halloween now join Christmas. The show now starts with one turn of the century and ends with another turn of the century. With its continuous showings, the Carousel of Progress has become the most performed show in the history of American theater, as well as the most-seen stage show in America even though as early as 2000 the show was rumored to be closed for good. (So much so that John Lasseter dropped by for a private viewing fearing it would be the last time he would see the show.)

Jacob Addison runs one of the best sites devoted to the attraction (www.carouselofprogress.com) and may have been the first person to start a "Save the Carousel" campaign. He received this letter from Imagineering Ambassador Marty Sklar February 10, 2000:

Dear Mr. Addison:

I have received your letter regarding your "Save the Carousel" campaign, and am also aware that you have written Paul Pressler and others about the same subject.

On the one hand – having written material for every version of the Carousel of Progress and supervised the recordings of Rex Allen for his role as "Father" – I can appreciate your sentimentality. On the other hand, I am also well aware that attendance at the Carousel has been in a constant decline for a number of years. The fact is that today's guests at our Disney Parks prefer other forms of storytelling, and not all of them are "thrill rides."

Although we have looked at other options for use of the Carousel building (as we have at Disneyland), we have no plans at the moment to replace or close the Carousel at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. However, I must underscore the fact that we are following history begun in the earliest days of Disneyland by Walt Disney when we evaluate replacing attractions. Walt started doing that almost immediately, and not all the attractions he replaced were "unpopular," or did not work for one reason or another. In fact, attractions like the Viewliner train and Midget Autopia were very popular, especially with young visitors. (Walt also tore down one of my personal favorites, The Chicken Plantation Restaraunt along the Rivers of America in Frontierland to build New Orleans Square in Disneyland; and later we removed the popular Rainbow Caverns Mine Train to build Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.)

Forms of entertainment change, sometimes dramatically, over time. What appealed and communicated to an audience in the 1960's does not necessarily work in the year 2000. For example, most of us would be bored to tears with the pace of 1960's television shows and would "zap!" 1960's style commercials even faster today than we did 30-some years ago. Our shows and storytelling devices must be as relevant in the 21st century as Walt's were in the 20th century.

I apologize for being so long-winded with this response. No one, except my colleague John Hench, now in his 62nd year at Disney – he designed the Carousel buildings for both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom – has a longer and more involving connection with the Carousel. I was responsible for "selling" G.E. on moving the show from the New York World's fair to Disneyland, and then to Walt Disney World; and working with Dick and Bob Sherman on the music, Marc Davis and John Hench on the scene vignettes, Claude Coats on the layout and production, and Wathel Rogers on the figure programming was like spending everyday at a Disney Legends convention.

But, Mr. Addison, if the time comes when we have the need, a "better idea," and the funding, I will be the first in line to change out the Carousel. And I will shed many tears at its demise.

Sincerely,

Martin A. Sklar

If you are interested in even more history about the "Carousel of Progress" I would suggest you checking out Dave O'Neal's extinct attractions club. that has just produced several discs devoted to the attraction. Disney fans Kim Eggink and Jerry Edwards just sent me some of the Extinct Attractions DVDs as a gift and one of them was the history of "Carousel of Progress".

I'll be honest and say that in the past I have always been cautious ordering ever since Dave heartbreakingly broke a promise to my now-deceased parents back when he was doing these on videotape and that ordering some of his first DVDs, I did not see much quality control and received DVDS with fingerprints and scratches on the discs and some of the discs being unplayable, constantly freezing. However, watching the history of the "Carousel of Progress" DVD, I will say that I am impressed that he is preserving the stories of some of the still surviving Disney Legends, that the production quality is high, that the research is accurate and that the DVD had no problems playing on my machine. I can see why Imagineers and even the Disney Archives are grabbing copies of the DVDs he is currently producing.

As for Kat and Ellen's petition, I signed it willingly although I believe that the "Carousel of Progress" is due for another "re-imagining" to really make it a tribute to Walt's original vision. However, I did tell the ladies that in my personal experience that petitions have less effect than individual letters written in a professional and polite manner. The rule of thumb at the Disney Company is that every letter they receive means that there might be a hundred more people who feel the same way but didn't take the time or know where to send the letter. I was much older than Melissa when "Horizons" closed and I now regret I didn't send a letter letting Disney know I would have preferred them keeping that attraction open than installing one that makes me ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

Photo by Jim Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

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

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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