A relatively easy drive from Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, Door County, Wisconsin is a favorite weekend and vacation destination for folks in the area. Its name comes from a narrow strait, which is a shortcut from Lake Michigan into Green Bay. Treacherous winds and currents make it hazardous to navigate at times, and the Native Americans in the area called it, in their own language, the “Door of Death.” Their words were translated as “Porte des Morte” by the French explorers who came later.
Laetitia and her group stopped to buy tickets for August: Osage County, a play that was being performed that evening by the Peninsula Players. They spent the rest of the day visiting the villages that populate the peninsula, doing coastal hikes and drives, and looking at lighthouses and oddities like Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, with goats eating grass on its sod roof.
Door County is famous for the Montmorency cherry, a tart variety beloved of pastry bakers, named for the Montmorency Valley in France. Fresh cherries are available from middle to late summer, but dried cherries, jams, preserves, and related products are available throughout the tourist season.
Early that evening the group went to a fish boil at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek. Laetitia’s grandmother had asked her to say hello to Russell when she was there. Russell had a day job as a pipefitter in the Sturgeon Bay shipyard, but spent his evenings on Wednesdays and weekends as the boil master at the inn. He would oversee and explain the fish boil process and then, while the food was cooking, entertain the guests with his accordion.
The fish (usually fresh Lake Michigan whitefish) is boiled in a large pot over an open wood fire. The pot is filled with salt water (one pound of salt per two gallons of water), creating buoyancy that makes the oils cooked from the fish rise to the top. When the water is boiling, the food is lowered into the pot in metal baskets. Potatoes are cooked first, and then the fish. Just before the fish is ready to serve, kerosene is thrown on the fire, causing it to flame up and the pot to boil over, expelling the floating fish oil from the pot. The fish and potatoes are served with coleslaw and homemade breads, with cherry pie as dessert.
August: Osage County is a dark play about a dysfunctional family. Tracy Letts, the playwright, received a Pulitzer Prize for the play in 2008. The evening’s performance was long, but well-acted, and it was a big hit with Laetitia’s group. During intermission, Laetitia overheard a conversation by some adolescent males about a naive acquaintance from Iron Mountain, Michigan. They had enticed him to “Doorco,” as they called Door County, to be fixed up with a cherry tart that turned out to be a pastry instead of the
promiscuous but virginal woman he was expecting. It made a lame limerick, but it was late in the day, and Laetitia was running out of time.
Some Doorco lads made up a fiction
That was worthy of a politician
When they fixed up young Bart
With a fine cherry tart
For it is but a slight contradiction.