When it’s so cold, snowy and windy as it has been for what seems like forever, I often think of a trip I took to Door County, Wisconsin, a narrow peninsula tucked between Lake Michigan and Green Bay.
I’ve been there in both summer and winter and while it’s a beautiful place at any time, it’s hard to figure out why anyone ever decided to live there year round. There’s a howling wind across the waters, the roads are narrow and swiftly curve through wooded hillsides making winter driving perilous. But the people who settled here back in the 1800s were tough Finns, Swedes and Norwegians who had lived in equally harsh conditions back home and knew how to survive the cold and make a living fishing.
When you hang around the White Gull Inn at Fish Creek, named by Forbes as one of the 15 Prettiest Towns in America (I have to agree), you get to hear stories from people who can trace their ancestry many generations to those early immigrants.
They’ll tell you about how their grandparents had to walk across the frozen bay to attend school in nearby Ephraim founded by a Moravian preacher who walked from the city of Green Bay across the ice to this spot on Eagle Harbor. Indeed, there’s a lot of talk about people crossing the frozen ice back in the 1800s but I guess with few if any roads and those that did exist most likely drifted shut, you either stayed home or hoofed it across the water.
Then there was the Karen Ekberg who gave me a tour of the one room school house she and her cousin attended some 60 plus years ago. Ekberg‘s mother taught there in the 1930s before she married and lost her job because of that. That might have been a relief since besides teaching, the job entailed lighting the wood burning stove early in the morning and the only bathrooms were outhouses.
Of course they ate a lot of fish back then and this part of Wisconsin prides themselves on their cherry orchards, but let’s face it, Michigan has the best cherries no matter what those Door County people might think. But they do know how to make great cherry pie and host fish boils, where chunks of freshly caught fish and potatoes are thrown into huge iron kettles of boiling water. It was a way to feed a large crowd and probably share more stories about walking across the ice.
Getting back to the weather here, I was sitting on my couch watching the wind whip snow into a frenzy and reading a book called "Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food" (Nebraska Press 2013, $19.95) and came across an essay written by Peggy Wolff. It so reminded me of my time in Fish Creek and staying at the wonderful White Gull Inn, that I thought I’d share two of the Inn’s recipes Peggy included in her story.
White Gull Inn Fish Boil Recipe for Home Cooks
12 small red potatoes
8 quarts water
2 cups salt (see note)
12 white fish fillets or 12 lake trout steaks, 2 inches thick (3 to 4 ounces each, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Tartar sauce, for serving
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted for serving
2 lemons, cut in halves, for serving
Wash the potatoes well and cut a thin slice off each end (this allows for better flavor penetration). Set them aside.
Pour the water into a 5-gallon pot and bring it to a rolling boil. Keep it boiling as much as possible during the cooking procedure.
Add 1 cup of the salt and the potatoes to the pot.
Cook until the potatoes are nearly done (test with a fork), 20 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup salt and the whitefish.
Cook until the fish is still firm but beginning to pull away from the bone when lifted with a fork, 8 to 10 minutes. While the fish is cooking, skim the oil off the surface of the water with a spoon.
Lift the cooked potatoes and fish from the water and drain well. Arrange the fish and potatoes on a large platter and sprinkle with the parsley.
Serve immediately with the Tartar sauce, melted butter for dipping or spooning over, and the lemons alongside.
NOTE: The amount of salt is based on the amount of water.
If you're increasing the amount of water, add 1 cup of salt for each additional gallon of water.
White Gull Inn Door County Cherry Pie
Makes one, 10″ pie.
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
2 cups flour
1 cup vegetable shortening/Crisco
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup cold water
In a medium size bowl, cut flour, sugar and shortening together until “pea” sized. Make a “well” in the flour and add the water. Move flour into the water and knead gently until blended together (do not over knead).
5 cups tart cherries with juice (Montmorency cherries)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)
In a small mixing bowl combine sugar and cornstarch. Set aside. In a non-metallic saucepan, place cherries and food coloring (if using). Heat over medium flame to release juices. Add sugar mixture and stir until blend together. Cook until thick and liquid reduces slightly. Stir constantly while cooking, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.
Divide pie dough in half and roll out into 2 round crusts placing one into a 10″ pie pan. Put pie filling into crust and cover with the other piece of dough. Trim excess dough from around edge of pie pan, roll and crimp edges. Sprinkle top with sugar. Poke a hole in top to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 325 degrees for another 30 minutes. Bake until golden brown. Allow to cool and serve with ice cream.