Disney Brings Spring Flavors to Life at Garden Festival

4.28 4Disney is known for creating magical experiences for people of all ages from around the world by bringing characters to life. Its annual 24th Annual Flower & Garden Festival, underway through May 31 at Epcot, brings to life fresh flowers and spring flavors.

As you step inside the Epcot Theme Park, get set for a full sensory experience! There is so much to see, smell, hear, touch and taste from gardening exhibits, topiaries and Musical Gardens to Outdoor Kitchens and the Garden Rocks concert series.

An industry colleague and I spent nine hours at Epcot on April 26 and couldn’t have had a more magical day! We were told to start at The Land Pavilion, which turned out to be great advice. No Fast Passes were needed as there was no wait.

4.28 3We sailed on a boat through the greenhouses of The Land Pavilion where 9-pound lemons, Mickey-shaped pumpkins and much more is grown. (Click here to learn more about the hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaculture featured on Disney’s “Behind the Scenes” tour. My family and I enjoyed it so much that I wrote two blogs about it! In fact, our teenage son told me it was the best “field trip” he’s ever taken. Yes, I’m one of THOSE moms who tends to incorporate learning with fun.)

Also inside The Land, we went Soarin’ across the world in a virtual hand glider. We breezed our way across the Arctic tundra and arid deserts as there was no line for this major attraction at 9:30 AM. 4.2 2(The park opens at 9 AM. Because The Showcase of the World doesn’t open until 11 AM, not many guests venture out early.)

Just outside The Land we found the Seed Sanctuary, where Disney and the American Seed Trade Association have partnered to bring the magic of seeds to life. This display features kale from 100 years ago plus varieties available today. It also will show how plant breeding has led to the evolution of Dianthus flowers.

Our “epicurean adventure” began on a nearby walkway where we saw the first of 15 Outdoor Kitchens, which is a record number for this festival. The Outdoor Kitchens serve up small plates of fresh-from-the-garden dishes, so guests can literally eat their way around The World Showcase.  Each Outdoor Kitchen also features a garden that showcases where or how foods listed on its menu are raised or sourced. 

4.28New this year in Canada was Northern Bloom where we couldn’t resist trying the Beef Tenderloin Tips topped with Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce, served on a bed of whipped potatoes and a side of garden vegetables. At Urban Farm Eats, we savored Seared Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragout, Spring Vegetables and Fingerling Potatoes. The Pulled Pork Slider with coleslaw provided the most delicious “American adventure” at The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews.

There are just so many good eats and drinks that a body really needs to plan ahead! A Best of the Fest video highlighted seven food and drink items new to the 2017 festival. One of the foods listed that piqued my interest is the Potato Pancake with caramelized onions, ham and herbed sour cream from Bauernmarkt: Farmer’s Market in the German Pavilion. (My German grandma often enjoyed potato pancakes served with homemade applesauce for supper. I love this “fresh twist” on traditional German fare.) Another new food item on my “eat list” is the Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepper Berry Sorbet from the new Berry Basket.

To give you a taste of the Disney Flower & Garden Festival, today we’re sharing with you a recipe for one of the most unique menu items that I tried while visiting Epcot. I had read the Watermelon Salad at Urban Farm Eats was divine. And if wasn’t for that online food review, I would have missed out on this extremely light and refreshing salad. It really hit the spot on an 85-degree day. Hope you enjoy it, too!

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Watermelon Salad Recipe

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
3 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup pickled onion*
1/4 cup balsamic glaze**
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Divide watermelon among plates. Toss arugula with white balsamic vinaigrette in a medium bowl and lightly season with salt & pepper. Top each portion of watermelon with arugula. Top each serving with 2 to 3 picked onion rings, then sprinkle with feta. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.

If you're up to the challenge, try these recipes the Disney Chefs use to make their own balsamic glaze & pickled onions!!

*Pickled Onions

1/2 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons grenadine syrup
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 pound red onions, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings

If using frozen raspberries, thaw. Purée raspberries in a food processor. Pour purée through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard seeds; set puree aside. Combine raspberry purée, water, sugar, grenadine, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Add onions; stir to coat, then remove from heat. Set aside 20 minutes.

**Balsamic Vinigarette

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons finely diced shallots
2 tablespoons roasted garlic*
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine white balsamic vinegar, shallots, garlic, honey, and lemon juice in a blender. Blend until well combined. With blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Blend until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook’s Note: Balsamic glaze can be found in most supermarkets on the oil and vinegar aisle. To make your own, place 2 cups balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 40 minutes.