Door County: More To Wisconsin Then Dairy And Suds

(Story previously published in Canstar weeklies)

When you think of Wisconsin, cheese and beer may come to mind. But did you know it’s also home to a top cherry-producing region, an abundance of green space, and folklore galore?

Jutting from the northeast corner of the state is the peninsula Door County. Known as ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest’, Door County is bordered by 482 kilometers of Lake Michigan shoreline, and dotted with 11 historic lighthouses.

It’s paradise for hiking and biking, counting over two dozen parks – more than any other US county. It’s also a great place to get your spooky on, with one of the top ten ghost tours in the entire country.

While Door County is welcoming and idyllic, its name references a dark nautical history steeped in demise. Off the tip of the peninsula lies open water, nestled between the mainland and a large island. This unassuming stretch lay peppered with jagged shoals lurking below the surface, proving fatal to many seafarers.

No one knows how many vessels were destroyed, but certainly enough to bestow upon the region the French moniker Port des Morts – or ‘door of death’. It was shortened to death’s door, before eventually becoming its current name.

In Door County today you’ll find quaint ‘seaside’ towns, where sporadic signs announce for-sale items like homemade jams, dill pickles, and freshly baked cookies.

You’ll also find countless goods inspired by the Montmorency cherry, a tiny tart fruit harvested in more than 2000 acres of orchards. Between 3.6 and 6.4 million kilograms of cherries are produced annually.

Several varieties of cherry wine are produced at six local wineries. There’s also cherry jam, cherry marinades, cherry salsa, even cherry lotion and soap. Stop by the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek and indulge in the cherry-stuffed French toast, named Best Breakfast in America in 2010 by Good Morning America.

If there was an award for most exceptional dining experience, the Door County ‘Fish Boil’ would surely take the (cherry) cake. What began as an affordable and efficient way to feed hungry hoards of fishermen is now a not-to-be-missed attraction.

At sundown, diners gather ‘round an outdoor bonfire containing a massive kettle of salted water. When precisely the correct temperature is reached, the boilmaster adds a basket of potatoes and onions, and batch of whitefish steaks fresh from Lake Michigan.

Our boilmaster Earl T. Jones was part host, part showman, part comedian. He paced around telling jokes and stories, leaving no photo opportunity unfilled.

When the moment came to toss kerosene into the fire for one gigantic blaze of boil-over glory, Earl resembled an action hero in the foreground of a special effects explosion.

Theatrics aside, Earl proved himself a legitimate chef. The hearty concoction resulted in the most delectable fish dinner I’ve ever eaten, and one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had.

Finish off with some delicious desert – a slice of the region’s renowned cherry pie. Or, for a change, stop by Wilson’s Ice Cream Parlour and order a sundae.

With a cherry on top.

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