There’s more than one way to skin a cat(fish) — or a whitefish, in this case — but in Door County, Wisconsin, they take their history — and their fish boils — seriously.
If you travel to Door County — a scenic peninsula in northeast Wisconsin, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan and Green Bay — it’s practically mandatory that you go to a fish boil.
It’s as American as cherry pie, another Door County specialty. But that’s another story.
I’ve come to Rowleys Bay Resort near the northeastern tip of the county for its take on the tradition — one that comes with its own historical re-enactor.
“A fish boil is where we cook the fish, potatoes and onions outside on the fire, and at the end of the cooking time, we do a boilover,” explains Jewel Peterson Ouradnik, the resort’s owner. “What we do is we intensify the heat of the fire by putting fuel oil on the fire. The fire then boils over, so the oils come off the top, and then we pull the fish out.”
At flashpoint, the boilover becomes a raging inferno, if only for a few seconds. Flames surround the cast-iron cooking kettle and shoot skyward as the kerosene burns off. It’s a “shock and awe” moment, and spectators are always ready with their cameras.
“Fish boils started when the Norwegians and the Swedes came to this country from the old country,” explains Charles Dickson, the historical re-enactor who plays the part of Peter Rowley, one of the original settlers of the area now known as Rowleys Bay in 1840. Whitefish were plentiful in Lake Michigan, and a boil was a simple and economical way to feed hungry families.
“When they would come in with their catch,” Dickson continues, “they’d come to the shore and all the people would come down to see how big a catch and so forth. The Norwegians were a happy bunch, and they just invited everybody to come and eat.”
You’ll find traditional fish boils advertised throughout Door County. Rowleys Bay Resort offers its version, complete with historical storyteller, on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday nights, part of the resort’s all-you-can-eat buffet. The restaurant is open from Memorial Day through October.
Show up at 4:30; they’ll ring the dinner bell when the fish is ready!
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Rowleys Bay Resort
1041 County Road ZZ
Ellison Bay, WI 54210
Door County tourism information: www.doorcounty.com
Check out the photo gallery below (Glen Abbott photos):
Glen Abbott is a New Orleans-based freelance travel writer/photographer. Visit his blog at www.TravelinGringo.com.