- Written by Andrea Gross Andrea Gross
The little girl behind me giggles, a deep, throaty “tee-hee-hee.” The woman next to me catches my eye, and we start laughing too. “Heather, sshh,” says the girl’s mother.
But Heather finds the actions taking place on the stage in front of us hilariously funny, and pretty soon the entire audience is giggling along with her. Part of it is because the child’s laugh is contagious; part of it is because the play, a production of the American Folklore Theatre, is genuinely funny; and part of it is because we’re all just so darn glad to be here.
“Here” is Door County, Wisconsin (doorcounty.com), a small poke of land that juts out from the eastern shore of the state into Lake Michigan, about 150 miles north of Milwaukee.
Seventy miles long and less than 15 miles across at its widest point, the narrow peninsula has more than 300 miles of coast, five state parks, and enough sporting adventures, picturesque villages, and recreational activities to satisfy the pickiest of people.
We stop at a small, family-owned restaurant, where we’re served our first piece of Wisconsin cherry pie. The county has more than 2,500 acres of cherry orchards, and eating cherries is a major activity.
At Orchard Country Winery and Market, the location of 70 of these acres, we walk through rows of lush trees laden with tart Montmorency cherries. Our guide hands us a brochure touting their benefits:
They contain antioxidants that are thought to prevent cancer and heart disease.
They contain melatonin, which may reduce the brain deterioration associated with aging.
They often relieve the pain of arthritis and gout.
The list goes on, but that’s enough for me. If eating cherry pie can keep me healthy, I’m all for it.
Over the next few days I devote myself to a health regime that includes a breakfast of cherry muffins and cherry chocolate coffee at the Door County Coffee & Tea Company, a lunchtime cherry sundae at Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, and an afternoon snack of cherry chocolate clusters at Door County Candy.
And, no matter where I eat dinner, I make sure to sip a glass of cherry chardonnay.
In between sugar highs, I wander through the peninsula’s many shops and galleries. In Sturgeon Bay I’m captivated by the museum-quality work of Stephanie Trenchard, who uses glass to create biographical sculptures.
But for overall shopping fun, I head to Fish Creek, my favorite of the area’s quaint towns. It’s there, in the studio of local artists Tony and Renée Gebauer, that I find the perfect Door County take-home: a handsome, handcrafted, oven-safe pie plate!
Meanwhile, my husband eschews cherry-gorging to indulge in other, more familiar health-promoting activities — ones that involve exercise rather than eating.
He passes on kayaking and sailing and chooses a morning bike ride and an afternoon Segway tour through — surprise! — cherry orchards. The next day he hikes to one of the peninsula’s 11 historic lighthouses and follows it with a walk through Whitefish Dunes State Park, home to the highest sand dunes in Wisconsin.
But while cherries are a main attraction during the summer months, Door County has become as much an autumn destination as a summer one. In fact, both Trip Advisor and Travel + Leisure have named Door County as one of the country’s top fall foliage destinations.
As fall approaches, cherries are replaced by apples and pumpkins, both of which are rich in antioxidants and fiber. Therefore, folks can continue to enjoy guilt-free pie; they just have to choose a different filling.
We also indulge in another Door County culinary tradition, a rousing fish boil at Rowley’s Bay Resort. Potatoes, onions, and locally caught whitefish are put in a large cauldron and cooked over an open fire until the fish reaches flaky perfection.
Then the boilmaster — in our case, a gentleman with definite tendencies toward pyromania — douses the fire with kerosene. As he jumps back from the flames that flare 6-plus feet into the air, the fish oils overflow and leave behind an oil-free stew. Once again, healthy and delicious!
After dinner it’s off to the theater. Door County has an impressive program of theatrical and musical productions, and during our stay we see serious drama as well as lighthearted comedy.
But it’s at the American Folklore Theater, sitting on cushioned seats under the stars, where we have the most fun. This is where we meet Heather, the giggling 7-year-old, and we’re reminded that, when it comes to health, laughter is the best medicine of all.