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Fish Boils and Cherry Pies

Dateline: Door County, Wisconsin

By Tracy L. Ziemer
Monday, July 17, 2006

the daily dishEvery region of the United States has its summer vacation hot spots, from North Carolina's Outer Banks to Oregon's Cannon Beach. For Midwesterners, that place is Door County, the "thumb" in Wisconsin's mitten-shape geography. While not as posh as California's O.C., Wisconsin's "D.C." is a lovely Midwestern New England surrounded by 250 miles of shoreline and dotted with lighthouses, art galleries, and B&Bs.

Nestled among all that quaintness are unique food finds, like the Door County fish boil. Begun by Scandinavian settlers more than 100 years ago as a way to feed large groups of hungry lumberjacks and fishermen, a fish boil is a regionally renowned outdoor cooking event, much like chicken booyah.

Door County restaurants fill huge kettles with water, potatoes, and steaks from freshly caught local Lake Michigan whitefish. The concoction is cooked outside over a wood fire until the chef douses the flames with kerosene, causing the kettle to boil over, thereby skimming the fish oils off the top and extinguishing the flames below. The fish is perfectly flaky, but salt and butter definitely are a diner's best friends with this dish.

Another tradition is to cap off a fish boil with a wedge of cherry pie. Door County is the fourth-largest cherry-growing producer in the nation, making it a pie lover's paradise, with the delightfully sour Montmorency cherry the dessert star. The best bakers on the peninsula understand that good cherry pie shouldn't be too gelatinous; all that's needed are cherries and lots of them, plus sugar and perhaps a touch of lemon juice or cornstarch or flour.

The Inn at Cedar Crossing produces a spectacular version that packs 4 pounds of the tart darlings in every single pie, enveloping them in a thick pâte sablée crust that will remind you of the best sugar cookie. This pie is all cherry — not a hint of syrupy filler. (336 Louisiana St., Sturgeon Bay; 920-743-4249; www.innatcedarcrossing.com)

Up Highway 42 is Sweetie Pies, a white clapboard pie shop in Fish Creek, where the father-daughter owners use only natural ingredients and roll their crusts by hand. The duo sells about 85 pies daily in the summer and offer pie-making classes in winter. The standout among the 25 kinds of pie is, of course, cherry, which uses two pounds of the good stuff. Whole pies are available online. (9106 Highway 42, Fish Creek; 920-868-2743; www.doorcountypies.com)

Cherry lovers also are wise to go straight to the source, like Hyline Orchard (8240 Highway 42, Fish Creek; 920-868-3067; www.hylineorchardfarmmarket.com) or Seaquist Orchards (11482 Highway 42, Sister Bay; 920-854-4199; www.seaquistorchards.com), to get a pie baked fresh on the premises, or to pick up cherries to make their own desserts.

Of course, why make more than one stop? To enjoy these two great Door County tastes together, look no farther than the White Gull Inn. The inn's fish boil is the peninsula's hottest draw, served with coleslaw, homemade breads, and a slice of homemade pie, which is made with cherries from Rocky Ridge Orchard in nearby Egg Harbor. (4225 Main St., Fish Creek; 920-868-3517; www.whitegullinn.com).

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