Despite being one of the most famous names in history, when it came to food, Walt Disney was a man of simple tastes. Thanks to all of the hardworking historians at Disney his diet has been well documented. His daughter Diane described him as having a “hash house/lunch wagon” appetite, a result of eating frugally in those types of establishments long before marrying her mother, Lillian. Even after building his empire, Walt’s favorite foods remained the same. Of his eating habits his wife Lillian recalled, “Walt ate very simply. He liked basic foods. He loved chili. For breakfast he’d have eggs, toast, fruit juice, and an occasional sausage. Lunch was usually just a sandwich, milk, coffee … he always wanted coffee for lunch. Sometimes his secretary would call me and tell me what he had for lunch, because when he didn’t like the dinner, he often used the excuse that he had had it for lunch.”
In 1934 Walt contributed a recipe to the February issue of Better Homes & Gardens, proof that he wasn’t ashamed of his fondness for standard American fare. According to the article, Macaroni Mickey Mousse, a baked macaroni and cheese dish, was his meal of choice when he invited guests for dinner in his Hollywood home. The article also includes a quaint story behind the inspiration for Mickey Mouse. Apparently while working for a commercial artist in Kansas City, Walt encountered mice in the workroom. He would often share bits of cheese with them and one evening a very brave mouse climbed onto his drawing board, giving him a closer look at the rascal that would one day become his most famous cartoon.
After his studio was up and running, Walt remained dedicated to providing affordable food to all of his employees. The commissary at the studio served simple, quality food available at cost. Walt usually ate his work lunch in The Coral Room, a dining area adjunct to the commissary, or at his desk. His favorite lunch was a mixture of two kinds of canned chili – bean-heavy Dennison’s and meat-heavy Gebhardt’s. In his Burbank office there was a kitchen just off of the conference room.
Occasionally he would serve lunch, beginning with a glass of V-8 tomato juice, to his guests in the conference room. He is even rumored to have brought his favorite canned foods along while traveling, so that he could enjoy his favorites no matter where he found himself.
The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco contains a list that reveals how simple Walt’s taste in food really was. Walt wrote the list himself for the family’s live-in housekeeper and cook, Thelma Howard, likely to serve as a reminder when she was making the family meals. He would often grumble his disappointment when she cooked anything he wasn’t fond of.
Walt Disney’s Favorites
Chicken Fry Cube Stake [sic]
Roast Lamb with Potatoes & Gravy
Pan-Fried Chicken with Potatoes & Gravy
Roast Chicken with Dressing & Gravy
Spam and Eggs with Biscuits & Honey
Oyster Stew with Crackers & Cheese
Breaded Veal Cutlets with Bread & Gravy
Chasens [sic] Chili & Beans
NOTE: Only one vegetable with meals — corn, canned peas, leaf spinach, stewed tomatoes, etc.
Carrot & Raisans [sic]
Tomato and Cucumber
Jello [sic] — All flavors with pieces of fruit
Pinaple [sic] — Fresh or Canned
Fruit — Fresh or Canned
Lillian Disney also recalled Walt’s modest taste (and fussy temper!) when it came to dessert. “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 and Bob and Sharon — I remember they were having dinner with us — looked at each other wondering what on earth was going on. I remember that I got some whipped cream on the wallpaper …it left a grease mark and I had to change it.”
Disney did have some desserts that he enjoyed. In May 2001 Walt’s daughter Diane told Walt Disney World Chef Mary Schaefer that Thelma prepared a dessert every night. While he wasn’t a huge fan of sweets he did have a few favorites, including custards, red Jell-O with fruit, baked apples, bread pudding, lemon snow pudding, gingerbread and cookies made with crunchy chow mein noodles and melted butterscotch. Apparently Walt’s very favorite treat was pie – he was partial to boysenberry, apple, and lemon with graham cracker crust.
When Mamie and Ike Eisenhower put together Five-star Favorites: Recipes from Friends of Mamie and Ike, a cookbook of recipes from their famous friends, the Disney family submitted a lemon pie recipe. Walt’s first grandson, Christopher, was also fond of this dessert and was given the honor of naming it. As a young child, it was only natural that he named the pie after himself. It’s creamy and refreshing, perfect for a lazy late summer evening. Here it is, a Disney family recipe for Cold Lemon Pie!
Get the Recipe
Cold Lemon Pie
Prepare cold lemon pie like Walt Disney. Learn more at The History Kitchen blog.
- Filling Ingredients:
- 4 eggs, separated
- ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp grated lemon peel
- Crust Ingredients:
- 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 6 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
- Optional Toppings:
- whipped cream
- grated nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs with the melted butter and press them evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan.
- Bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and allow the crust to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat together the egg yolks, lemon juice and water until just combined. Set aside.
- In the top of a double boiler, combine ½ cup of the sugar with the salt and the gelatin. Add the egg yolk mixture and mix until well combined. Cook, over boiling water, stirring constantly until the gelatin has dissolved and the mixture has thickened.
- Remove the top pan from the double boiler and stir in the lemon peel.
- Fill a large mixing bowl with ice water and place pan containing the topping into the bowl. Be careful that none of the water splashes into the pan. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, or until the mixture is thick enough to create a mound when dropped from a spoon.
- While the filling cools, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining ½ cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Once the filling has cooled, gently fold it into the whipped egg whites until just combined. Place the filling into the pie crust and top with nutmeg, if desired. Chill for several hours, or until it has set up enough to slice. Top with whipped cream before serving, if desired.
You will also need: 9 inch pie pan, mixing bowls, double boiler, hand or stand mixer
Recipe Source: Five-star Favorites: Recipes from Friends of Mamie and Ike. New York: Golden, 1974. Print.
Yield: One 9 inch pie, 6-8 servings
Anderson, Paul. “Macaroni Mickey Mousse” – Disney History Institute.” Disney History Institute. Disney History Institute, 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 26 June 2015.
Five-star Favorites: Recipes from Friends of Mamie and Ike. New York: Golden, 1974. Print.
Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. New York: Knopf, 2006. Print.
Korkis, Jim. “Eating Like Walt Disney.” Mouse Planet. N.p., 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 26 June 2015.
Kurtti, Jeff. “The Wonderful World of WALT: Walt’s Favorite Foods.” Disney Blogs. Disney, 11 June 2012. Web. 26 June 2015.
Thomas, Bob. Walt Disney: An American Original. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976. Print.
Meet the Author
Tori Avey is a food writer, recipe developer, and the creator of ToriAvey.com. She explores the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Tori’s food writing and photography have appeared on the websites of CNN, Bon Appetit, Zabar’s, Williams-Sonoma, Yahoo Shine, LA Weekly and The Huffington Post. Follow Tori on Facebook: Tori Avey, Twitter: @toriavey, or Google+.