Discover the only cooking school in a theme park at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
Story by Diana Lambdin Meyer
Photos courtesy of Silver Dollar City
Tiffany Luhnow is a polite, soft-spoken woman who exudes kindness and good will. Yet, people frequently pick a fight with her.
“They see me using an egg wash on the edges of my cinnamon rolls and they get very upset,” says Luhnow. “They think it’s butter and they insist I should be spreading more butter everywhere, all over the cinnamon rolls. They become very adamant about it,” she laughs.
Luhnow loves the passion her customers bring to Eva and Delilah’s Bakery, the first of many authentic food stops as people enter the Silver Dollar City theme park at Branson, Missouri. She is the lead baker in the shop that, on a slow day, bakes more than 1,000 cinnamon rolls from scratch, all in an open kitchen area where hungry customers can ask questions and, apparently, voice their opinions.
Located in the rolling hills of the Missouri Ozarks, Silver Dollar City is a theme park with the requisite roller coasters, water slides and carousels. However, in its mission to interpret the heritage of the Ozarks, the park places heavy emphasis on the craft arts of the late 1800s that, at the time, were simply a necessary life skill. This includes wood working, blacksmithing, pottery, basket weaving, and of course, food.
In 2008, Silver Dollar City debuted the Culinary and Craft School, the only cooking school in a theme park anywhere in the U.S. and perhaps the world. The building itself is noteworthy since it was handcrafted by woodworkers, tinsmiths, and glassblowers in the park. Look closely at the walls and you will not find a nail, only peg construction, since that’s what would have been found with the late 1800s.
The Master Craftsman of Culinary Arts is Debbie Dance Uhrig, a down-to-earth educator who honed her cooking skills growing up on a Missouri farm.“When Silver Dollar City envisioned this position, they did not want a professional chef with a big white hat and coat,” she says. “They wanted someone more approachable, so I just wear an apron.”
As a result, many class participants ask questions and often challenge her approach or technique in some recipes. “And that’s OK,” she says. “There are lots of ways to achieve the same effect. I never assume mine is the only way to cook.”
Signs for “Red Gold Tomatoes” adorn the walls of the cooking school and other locations around the park. One of the park’s performance venues is Red Gold Heritage Hall. And while there is a real company today called Red Gold Tomatoes, and the Indiana-based company is a Silver Dollar City vendor, that’s not why you see the signs.
Long before Silver Dollar City and all of Branson became the tourist destination it is today, tomato farming and canning was big business in these parts. Hundreds of family farms contributed to dozens of small canneries in the area. They called the crop “red gold.”
Tomatoes are no longer a cash crop in southwest Missouri, but the heritage of Red Gold tomatoes is still celebrated at Silver Dollar City.
The cooking school isn’t the only experience that makes the food so memorable at Silver Dollar City. Many of the dishes served in the restaurants come from theme park workers’ families.
Shirley Tolar grew up in these Ozark hills and clearly remembers that each Sunday before church she would help her grandmother chop vegetables for succotash served at Sunday dinner. Now in her 37th season at Silver Dollar City, Tolar is a senior leader in the foods division.
Her grandma Lizzie’s Ozark Mountain succotash recipe is prepared in five-foot wide iron skillets at Buckshot’s Skillet Cookery. Each year, more than 125,000 pounds of the succotash are sold, but Tolar no longer is responsible for chopping the vegetables.
Personal stories can be found in nearly every food shop in the 110-acre park. Even if you go to Silver Dollar City for the rides, you’ll still find a food connection. As an example, when the Outlaw Run wooden roller coaster debuted in 2013, the park’s food crafters developed a flavor profile to reflect the ride. It includes salted caramel and chocolate, which was then incorporated into ice cream, candy, cookies, and other baked goods throughout the park.
The flavor profile for the Time Traveler Roller Coaster—the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning coaster—includes chocolate silk, fudge, caramel, and marshmallow. Look for candies shaped like roller coaster gears at Brown’s Candy Factory.
Foodies will also appreciate a visit to Sullivan’s Mill, where the smell of baking cinnamon bread and other treats lure people to line-up for an hour during the holiday season for a fresh loaf. Throughout the year, bakers enjoy the selection of nearly 500 cookie cutters for sale, said to be the largest collection of cookie cutters under one roof in the U.S.
Ozark Mountain Succotash
1 lb. lightly breaded okra
8 oz. frozen whole kernel corn
8 oz. yellow summer squash
4 oz. onions
4 oz. green peppers
8 oz. diced fajita chicken
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Sauté onions and peppers with butter-flavored vegetable oil. Remove from skillet. Sauté fajita chicken in same skillet with oil. Remove from skillet. Sauté corn and squash in same skillet. Remove. Fry okra until golden brown. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder. When okra is done, add all ingredients to the skillet and heat until desired temperature.
Plan A Trip
Foodie travelers to Branson will enjoy lodging at the Bradford Inn, Eatery and Bakeshop, located about three miles from the Silver Dollar City entrance. The inn features a garden that grows most produce served to guests and the innkeeper is a master pie baker. The breakfast cinnamon rolls, made fresh each morning, compete with those at Silver Dollar City as far as size and flavor.
Diana Lambdin Meyer is a southern Illinois farm girl who grew up in the Shawnee Hills, Illinois’ only viticulture area. Now based in Kansas City, Missouri, she and her husband Bruce travel the world in search of good stories and good photos. Follow their travels at mojotraveler.com. www.mojotraveler.com
During the Coronavirus pandemic, many venues are limiting public access and events with safety in mind. Please call to confirm visitor details in advance. We anticipate that regular operations will resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, wash your hands frequently, stay safe, and keep calm.