Cherries to Shakespeare—this Wisconsin peninsula has it all
Door County, Wisconsin and the great Russian playwright Anton Chekov have a couple of things in common: cherry orchards and theatre. When Chekov wrote, “Don’t you see that from every cherry tree in the orchard, from every leaf and every trunk, men and women are gazing at you?” it was not a happy reference—but used for the orchards of Door County, it reflects the area’s long, successful history of cherry growing, which has been vital to the county’s economy since the late 1800s.
As for theatre, Door County’s proximity to Milwaukee and Madison in Wisconsin and Chicago in Illinois means there is a big audience for “summer stock” professional theatres, and the area features three.
Summer’s the time to visit, when Door County’s 298 miles of coastline on Green Bay and Lake Michigan are happily bustling with visitors, the weather’s balmy and from cooking classes and wineries to biking and kayaking, there’s something to suit every cherry-pickin’ person.
Eat, Drink and Be Cherry
Cherry lovers will be in heaven in Door County, where they are served in entrees, salads and desserts, incorporated into alcohol, and refined down for medicinal use. As recent research shows that the red fruit is high in antioxidants, melatonin, and is a natural anti-inflammatory, you can indulge without guilt.
If you’re in the county during cherry-picking season, Orchard Country Winery & Market gives you the chance to pick your own Montmorency cherries on their one-hour tours of the orchards, winery and market. (Tours run from May-October.) Sample wines made from cherries, cherry juice, cherry jam—and of course, pie! You can take home all kinds of treats from the market, including Cherry Sangria, Hot Cherry Salsa and Cherry Butter, among many other options.
Another place to learn about and sample cherries is Seaquist Orchards, which also sells a wide selection of jams, syrups, pie fillings and other treats made from the fruits of their more than 1,000 acres of cherries. Track down Dale Seaquist for a real insider’s view of cherries.
Visitors who love finding new recipes should make a beeline for the Savory Spoon Cooking School, where chef/teacher/co-founder Janice Thomas will host you in this restored 1879 schoolhouse. No need to be an expert cook; the gracious Chef Thomas talks/demos you through the delicious offerings of the day.
Sweet and Sour Cherries with Bay Leaves
- 1/2 pound sour cherries
- 20 black peppercorns, crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
Wash the berries and lay them on a dry cloth. Using a needle, prick each cherry two or three times and drop into a pint canning jar. Toss in the crushed peppercorns and tuck the bay leaves among the cherries.
Bring the vinegar, sugar and 1/3 cup water to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Cover the cherries with the liquid, close the jar and let cool. Refrigerate for 3 days.
Serve with artisan cheese, salami or pate.
Recipe courtesy of Janice W. Thomas, Savory Spoon Cooking School
Enjoying The Great (Out) Door
Door County’s 19 small towns and villages form a necklace along the shoreline, and all of them feature fabulous eateries. Try the cherry coffee cake at the Village Cafe in Egg Harbor, the Door County Cherry Stuffed French Toast at the gorgeous White Gull Inn in Fish Creek (perfect place to stay if you can get a room), cherry ice cream and great diner fare at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, and don’t forget the Cherry Margaritas at Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Grill in Sister Bay, a casual locals hangout that often has live music.
The complete cherry experience cannot be had without visits to Door County’s distilleries and wineries. At Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay, sip ciders crafted in the tradition of Normandy in France. Hard cherry cider is truly a treat.
Not far away is Stone’s Throw Winery with its wine and tapas tasting room. The wines, made with both California and Door County grapes, range from chardonnay to petit syrah. This year, Stone’s Throw has opened both a new eatery, Bocce!, which features wood-fired pizza cooked over old oak wine barrels (and you can play bocce ball!) and Taste, a new, intimate tasting series with winemaker-selected wines that must be booked in advance. Don’t leave out Door County Distillery in Carlsville. If you’re a fan of French eau de vie, you’ll love their similar fruit-infused vodkas and gins. Excellent gifts to bring home as well.
Not surprisingly, the area offers multiple ways to get in a little exercise to work off all the cherry treats you just indulged in.
Kayakers can paddle out from Peninsula State Park to Horseshoe Island, then stroll a one-mile path before kayaking back. Or, bike or hike the 10-mile Sunset Trail at the park, which is easy enough for all ages. Then there’s the Cherry Tour with Segway the Door Tours, which will take you on the back roads of the county, alongside…you guessed it…cherry orchards.
The Arts Cherry on Top
Theatre and music are in full swing during summer in Door County, including, as mentioned above, three professional summer stock theatre companies.
The oldest of these, the Peninsula Players, has been operating for 80 years, and includes illustrious alumni such as Sam Wanamaker, who went on to found the New Globe Theatre in London. This year’s slate of shows includes “The 39 Steps,” “Alabama Story,” “The Full Monty,” “Agatha Christie—The Hollow,” and “Chapatti.”
Northern Sky Theater has a unique mission: It presents only original musicals each season. The outdoor theatre, set in a wood, is a charming way to wile away a summer evening—but be sure and mosquito-proof yourself before the show, and it won’t hurt to have the bug stuff along with you, either. This season includes “Lumberjacks in Love,” “Doctor! Doctor!,” “When Butter Churns to Gold,” and “No Bones About It.”
If, like me, you cannot resist a chance to see Shakespeare performed outdoors under the stars, then hie thee to Door Shakespeare, where each summer two productions run in repertory. (Note that the mosquito instructions above should be followed here as well.) Another lovely grove setting forms the backdrop for Door Shakespeare shows, which this year are “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Door County also hosts a year-round (indoor) professional company, the Third Avenue Playhouse, where you’ll find adventurous offerings alongside more traditional fare. Their season through early September includes “Isacc’s Eye,” “Madame Sherry,” and “The Gin Game.”
Music-lovers will also find plenty to savor. At the Birch Creek Performance Center, a wide range of music takes the stage all summer long.
Classical fans have got both the Midsummer’s Music Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival to delight the eardrums.
If you’ve never considered heading north for a summer getaway, this might just be the summer to open that Door.
If You Plan To Go
For help in planning your trip, visit the complete and easy-to-use Door County Visitors Bureau website at doorcounty.com, or call them at (800) 527-3529.
Both American and Delta offer flights from the Chattanooga airport connecting through to Green Bay, where you will then rent a car to make the 45-minute drive to Door County.
Accommodations range from B&B to family friendly to luxurious. Again, doorcounty.com gives you a full list of choices and can help you book your stay.