I have always been surprised that no one has every attempted to hold some sort of dining event to eat like Walt Disney. Walt had very simple culinary tastes, so it would be easy to recreate several “Walt Disney” meals. The experience could be enhanced by entertainment provided by a film or cartoon made during Walt’s lifetime, maybe even one that is food related.
I have written several articles over the years about Walt and food and, so for this column, I am going to reformat some of that information—including the original source for Walt’s famous chili recipe that has appeared all these years. I'm also including the recipe for Macaroni Mickey Mousse (sp) that I discovered in an old magazine, and as soon as I posted it on the Internet,it was “borrowed” without credit at a variety of sites. (How do I know it was “borrowed”? Because I configured the page to remove an ad and to post prominently the name and date of the magazine from another page. If folks had gone to the original source, it would have looked different than the version I posted. I don’t mind sharing information but every now and then, I like a tip of the hat for all the time, research and expense to find these type of items.)
In addition, at the end of this week’s column is a special Walt treat that has never been published anywhere else and is ripe to be “borrowed”.
Walt’s oldest daughter, Diane, had written,
"Before he married mother, father had eaten in hash houses and lunch wagons for so many years in order to save money that he'd developed a hash house-lunch wagon appetite. He liked fried potatoes, hamburgers, western sandwiches, hotcakes, canned peas, hash, stew, roast beef sandwiches. He's not keen for steak—or any of the expensive cuts of meat. He doesn't go for vegetables, but he loves chicken livers or macaroni and cheese.
“He liked to eat at BIFF'S (a little coffee house near the Disney Studio). He felt they did their potatoes 'right' there. 'They pan-fry them.' Our housekeeper, Thelma, went and checked and said they were really hash-browned. Father ate a big lunch at the studio and then would pick at his dinner. Mother would say, 'Why should Thelma and I plan a meal when all Walt really wants is a can of chili or a can of spaghetti?'"
Walt even carried nuts and crackers in his jacket pockets so that he could have a simple snack if he felt hungry during the day.
Lillian Disney recalled:
“Walt ate very simply. He liked basic foods. He loved chili. For breakfast he had eggs, toast, fruit juice, occasionally a sausage. Lunch was usually just a sandwich, milk, coffee…he always wanted coffee for lunch. For dinner, he sometimes came through the kitchen on his way into the house and sometimes bawled Thelma out for what she was preparing for him. Sometimes his secretary would call me and tell me what he had for lunch because he often used the excuse when he didn’t like the dinner that he had had it for lunch.”
When Walt had no visitors for lunch at the Disney Studio, he ate at his desk. His favorite meal was chili and beans. He would combine a can of Gebhardt's (which had much meat and few beans) with a can of Dennison's (which had less meat but more beans). The dish was preceded by a glass of V-8 juice and accompanied by soda crackers.
If visitors came to lunch, they were ushered into Walt's conference room at noon. He served them an aperitif of V-8 juice which surprised some of his international guests who expected something stronger. Walt's secretary often warned visitors that if Walt offered them a glass of "tomato juice" they had best accept it. There is no documentation about the consequences for refusing.
When Walt traveled he'd bring along cans of chili and beans and other canned foods he liked to eat. At the fancy Dorchester Hotel in London, the waiters would serve him chili and beans and crackers that he had brought from the United States much to the embarrassment of Harry Tytle, who was a producer of a number of Disney films and who was dining with Walt at the time.
Gertrude Booth collected "favorite recipes of famous men" in her book, Kings in the Kitchen (A.S. Barnes & Co. 1961 New York) Along with Bob Hope, J. Edgar Hoover, John F. Kennedy and Alfred Hitchcock and many other "famous men," Walt Disney shared his special secret chili recipe to the public for the very first time and here it is for your enjoyment.
The recipe has been reprinted several times including the Spring 1995 issue of Disney Magazine and the D23 website (without any of them indicating the original source) but here is how it appeared in the book.
WALT'S CHILI RECIPE
2 pounds ground beef (coarse)
2 whole onions (sliced)
2 whole garlic cloves (minced)
2 pounds pink beans (dry)
1/2 cups celery (chopped)
1 teas. chili powder
1 teas. paprika
1 teas. dry mustard
1 can solid pack tomatoes (large can)
salt to taste
Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain. Add water to cover 2 inches over beans and simmer with onions until tender (about four hours). Meanwhile, prepare sauce by browning meat and minced garlic in oil. Add remaining items and simmer 1 hour. When beans are tender, add sauce and simmer 30 minutes. Serves six to eight.
As part of the 100 Years of Magic Celebration at the Walt Disney World Resort, several restaurants wanted to offer special desserts based on Walt Disney's favorites. One of Walt's former secretaries, Lucille Martin, as well as Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, provided the information that Walt's favorite desserts were very "homestyle" like lemon meringue, apple and Boysenberry pie.
The Disney's family cook prepared a dessert every night. Walt's other favorites included Apple Brown Betty, custards, bread pudding, baked apples, red Jell-O with fruit, lemon snow pudding, and lemon chiffon with a graham cracker crust. He liked Gingerbread and another type of cookie made with chow mein noodles and melted butterscotch.
When Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower published a cookbook (Five-Star Favorites: Recipes from Friends of Mamie & Ike. Golden Press 1974) and solicited recipes from their friends, the Disney family provided one of Walt's favorite desserts, which was also a favorite of Walt's first grandson, Christopher Disney Miller, who provided the name for this lemon chiffon concoction on a graham cracker crust.
CHRIS' COLD PIE
4 eggs, separated
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup water
1 tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
1 graham cracker crust (recipe on box)
In a small bowl, beat egg yolks with lemon juice and water just until combined. Mix gelatin, half the sugar and the salt in the top of a double boiler. Pour in egg yolk mixture, blending well. Cook, stirring constantly, over boiling water (water should not touch top section of double boiler) until gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens. Remove top from boiling water. Stir in lemon rind. Let set 20 minutes in a bowl filled with ice cubes, stirring occasionally. Remove from ice when mixture thickens enough to mound when dropped from a spoon.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites (at room temperature) in a large bowl until soft peaks form when beater is raised. Gradually add remaining sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time beating well after each addition. Continue beating until stiff peaks form when beater is raised. Gently fold gelatin mixture into egg whites just until combined. Turn into pie crust. Dust top with nutmeg and chill several hours. (If desired, omit nutmeg and serve topped with whipped cream.)
Lillian remembered that Walt “didn’t like sweets very much. Sometimes he could be annoyed by something he was served. He didn’t like cake. One time Thelma made a whipped cream cake and Walt was complaining about it. I got so put out that I picked up a piece of the whipped cream and threw it at him. It hit him right in the face. And he picked up some whipped cream and threw it at me. Then we started throwing it back and forth at each other….I remember that I got some whipped cream on the wallpaper and it left a grease mark and I had to change it.”
There is an oddball recipe titled "Macaroni Mickey Mousse" that was supposedly Walt's favorite that appeared in the February 1934 issue of Better Homes and Gardens that it took me a while to track down. A quick Internet search should bring up the copy I posted and was “borrowed” at other sites but for this column, I have simply transcribed the text:
“It is especially appropriate that Mr. Disney has this preference for a cheese dish, because it was partly because of his taste for cheese that he received the inspiration which led to the creation of Mickey Mouse. It happened like this: Some years ago, working late at night for a Kansas City commercial artist, Mr. Disney used to feed bits of cheese from his midnight sandwich to the mice that scampered about the room in which he worked.
“According to his story, one mouse finally became so friendly that he clambered up onto his drawing board, thus giving Walt Disney his first good look at the future Mickey Mouse.
“Mr. Disney often serves Macaroni Mickey Mousse to his friends who visit him at his Hollywood bungalow. He sometimes varies this recipe by having his cook substitute 2 tablespoons of finely chopped celery for the 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, and add 2 strips of finely chopped cooked bacon.”
MACARONI MICKEY MOUSSE
1 cupful of macaroni broken into 2-inch pieces
1 ½ cupfuls of scalding milk
1 cupful of soft bread crumbs
1/4 cupful of melted butter
1 pimiento, minced
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
1 tablespoonful of chopped onion
1 ½ cupfuls of grated cheese
1 teaspoonful of salt
1/8 teaspoonful of pepper
Dash of paprika
3 eggs, beaten
Cook the macaroni in 1 quart of boiling salted water, drain, cover with cold water, and drain again. Pour the scalding milk over the bread crumbs, add the butter, pimiento, parsley, onion, grated cheese, and seasonings. Then add the beaten eggs. Now turn the macaroni into a well greased loaf pan or casserole and pour the milk and cheese mixture over it. Bake about 50 minutes in a slow oven (325 degrees). The loaf is firm enough when done to hold its shape when turned out on a platter. Serves six.
In the early 1950s, when Walt was developing the concept of Disneyland, he would come home late in the evenings. He almost always entered his house through the kitchen, which was nearer the garage. He also used it as an excuse to check to see what his housekeeper, Thelma, was preparing for dinner.
If she was preparing steaks or lamb chops or broiled chicken, Walt would say, "You know I don't like that" with a sigh in his voice to indicate disappointment. It seemed that no matter what was being prepared for dinner, it was never what Walt wanted at that moment and he would grumble.
Walt sometimes had a big lunch at the studio (because he used that time for interviews or meeting with guests) and then would pick at his dinner. His grumbling still upset Thelma, even though she understood that fact and she would try to hide the dinner she was preparing if she heard Walt's car.
Despite the pleas of Mrs. Disney to Walt to avoid coming in to the house through the kitchen because it upset Thelma, Walt continued to do so because part of his evening ritual was to go to the refrigerator and grab a raw hot dog wiener. Walt called it a "weenie" based on what he heard it being called when he was growing up.
He would get the weenie for the family dog, a small poodle named "Lady." Walt loved that particular dog and she even appeared on a few of the early Disney television show introductions with Walt. Wherever he went wiggling the hot dog, Lady would go, which is why when Walt was building Disneyland he used the non-architectural term of needing a “weinie” to get guests to go where he wanted them to go. Examples of that concept were Sleeping Beauty Castle, the TWA Mooliner, and the Mark Twain riverboat.
Walt's daughter, Diane, remembered in a 1950s interview that her father loved "this old dog we had, the old poodle. Mother wanted her put to sleep. Dad said 'no'. Well, she was sick. She was just miserable during the day but she'd perk up in the evenings when Dad came home. That's the only time Dad saw her. In the evening, when Daddy came home, Dad would play with her with this hot dog."
Speaking of eating, on the day of my presentation at the Disney Family Museum on Walt’s fascination with Outer Space, Ron Miller and Diane Disney Miller very generously and graciously took me to lunch at the museum’s cafe. I had a turkey sandwich and lemonade, Diane a salad and Ron, in true Walt fashion, had chili!
I was almost too excited to eat but I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity and for over an hour between bites, the revelations about Disney history flowed and I promise to share those stories with the MousePlanet readers starting today. The museum has a small alcove featuring information about Walt’s favorite foods.
As Diane shared:
“Over the years, we had a succession of cooks in the kitchen. Our last one in the Woking Way house, before we moved to the home on Carolwood Drive around 1948 was Bessie Postalwaite, a good cook, an intelligent woman and a Missourian. That fact established a special bond between her and dad.
“She knew how to prepare food that he liked to eat—really good hash made from the previous night’s roast beef, bread pudding, apple Brown Betty, chicken pot pie (with biscuits on top), fried chicken, broiled chicken and chicken fried steak.
“When tomatoes were in season, she’d bring him a little side dish of them with vinegar and sugar. She was rather feisty, witty, and I think he really enjoyed her. During Bessie’s time with us, Thelma Howard entered our lives, first as a cleaning girl coming once or twice weekly.
“When we moved to Carolwood, Bessie retired and Thelma moved in. She did everything, and did it well. She cleaned the house daily, fed us all breakfast, dinner and sometimes lunch, and did laundry perfectly.
“The Swiss Organdy curtains in my parents’ bedroom were always fresh and white. She was a superb cook. Her pies were the best.
“She would dash out into the garden, gather an assortment of flowers, and place charming little arrangements around the house. She moved at the speed of light, chain smoked and was a great sports fan. She knew all Hollywood’s and the world’s gossip and had a stack of movie magazines handy.
“Her kitchen was our children’s favorite place to be. She had them drawing at the small kitchen table, dancing atop the butcher block island, watching tv in her room, while she prepared dinner of all of us.
“Christopher couldn’t say ‘Thelma’ and called her ‘Fou Fou’. She liked that and the name stuck. Dad took to calling her ‘our Mary Poppins’ and we loved her. She was part of our family.
“There were certain things that Dad liked to eat. He wasn’t much interested in steak, but preferred hash, stews, soups, even out of a can. He became tired of mother’s frequent meal plan of broiled lamb chops, baked potato, salad and came downstairs for breakfast one morning and handed Thelma this list.
“He said, ‘Thelma, here’s a list of things I like to eat.’ Somehow this list survived through the decades after his death and was found after mother’s death in an old LIFE magazine in the ‘maid’s room’ that had seen several different occupants since Thelma’s retirement.”
There is a transition area at the Disney Family Museum between Gallery 7 (devoted to projects Walt worked on immediately after World War II) and Gallery 8 (devoted to the True-Life Adventures and featuring a magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge opposite the display). This little alcove showcases some of Walt’s miniatures, three of the mechanical wind up toys he bought in France to study their movement and some other things, including a glassed display case with “Walt Disney’s Favorites” for food printed out by Walt’s hand on two 5-by-7 pieces of paper in still clear blue ink.
I smiled to see so many misspellings in the list that I will try to maintain them in this reprinting. No photography is allowed inside the galleries to prevent damage to the documentation. So, once again, I took out my little notebook that fits into the front pocket of my pants and, in blue ink, slowly copied the list to share with all of you in hopes it will encourage you to visit the museum yourself and see not only this amazing discovery in Walt’s own hand, but also some of the other amazing treasures throughout the 10 galleries.
Walt Disney’s Favorites
Chicken Fry Eube Stake [sp]
Roast Lamb—Potatoes and Gravy
Pan Fried Chicken with Dressing and Gravey [sp]
Spam and Eggs with biscuits and honey
Oyster Stew with crackers and cheese
Breaded Veal Cuttlets [sp]—Bread and Gravey [sp]
Chasens Chilli [sp] and Beans
Note—Only one vegetable with meals—corn—canned peas—leaf spinach—stewed tomatoes—etc.
Carrot and Raisans [sp]
Tomatoes and Cucumber
Jello—All flavors with pieces of fruit
Pinapple [sp]—Fresh or Canned
Fruit—Fresh or Canned
And along the side, as if a last minute remembrance, Walt printed: “Homemade soups?”
The Disney Family Museum is going to attempt a Walt dining experience on Saturday, September 24, with a members-only “Chili and A Movie” night, featuring an alfresco meal on the museum lawn. The admission price includes a chili dinner, popcorn, candy and a beverage and a showing of the comedy The Shaggy Dog with some cartoon surprises. For more information, visit their website or call 415-345-6812.
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.