August 9, 2019
Feeding the Homeless
Last week, I started off with an icon of "fishers of men," and today I am back with fish, having been treated to my first fish-boil dinner, a culinary hallmark of Door County, Wisconsin (and a couple other places in Wisconsin.) Door County was described by one writer as the closest thing to New England in the Midwest. It has 300 miles of coastline and is part of Green Bay Peninsula in Lake Michigan.
Generally, the fish boil is considered a Scandinavian invention. It was explained to us last night, by the Boil Master in the photo, that in Door County more than a hundred years ago there were many Icelandic lumbermen---Washington Island, off the very tip of the peninsula, was settled by Icelanders in the 1870s.
"William Wickmann, a Danish emigrant who had worked for a time on the southern coast of Iceland before coming to Milwaukee in 1856, wrote letters to Iceland describing his new home. His descriptions of the plentiful life in Wisconsin were circulated among his Icelandic friends. Wickmann's accounts of the abundance of coffee, of which Icelanders were especially fond, proved irresistible to his friends. However, Icelandic emigration to the United States did not happen in any significant numbers until 1873 when the first emigration agency, the Allan Line, set up shop in Iceland.In 1870, four Icelanders left for Milwaukee, eventually settling on Washington Island in Lake Michigan, just off the Green Bay peninsula. 12 left in 1871, and 23 in 1872." (Wikipedia)
There is a 30-minute ferry service between the tip of the Green Bay peninsula, where I stood last night, and Washington Island, where some of the descendants of the Icelanders still live. But I stayed on the peninsula, looking at Death's Door, the body of water between peninsula and Washington Island. It was calledPorte des Mortsby the French explorers because of the treacherous passage between the waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. It has claimed numerous ships over the years. Hence, Door County.Of course, the Midwest (like the U.S. and Canada) is populated by descendants of immigrants from Europe. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, I believe, most immigrants who settled here never saw their home countries again. Young people never saw their parents again (true for my paternal grandparents). Passage by boat was long and expensive. A factory worker might get some vacation time, but hardly enough to travel to a US port, sail to Europe, visit family, and return.
So, the Icelanders stayed and founded villages, farms, and families. The lumberjack crews worked up large appetites. Fresh Lake Michigan whitefish were boiled in large caldrons with potatoes and onions. Many decades ago some tourist hotels in Door Country hosted old style fish boils and found them to be very popular. So here we are in 2019 eating a Scandinavian lumberjack meal.
The burst of flame is set off when the boil master throws kerosene into the fire. That burst induces the pot to boil over, which removes from the pot the oil and scum that floats to the top while the fish is boiled (which takes only 7 minutes). Indeed, the fish, caught just the day before, was among the best I've ever eaten. Served buffet style with boiled small potatoes and small onions and coleslaw, the main course was followed by fresh cherry pie (the cherries are from local orchards).
Diners are served by staff who come to each table and debone the fish. Our table was served by a young woman from Western Ukraine, a few miles from where my grandmother was born; a young woman from Bulgaria; and a young man from Romania, has a family in Romania, but works here just for the summer. Many of Door County's seasonal workers are from abroad. Most will not settle here, like the Icelanders, Swedes, and Norwegians did. Our emigration started with the First Exile and has continued ever since. We are all immigrants to the kingdom of God, all from another place facing death's door. We have no lasting home here, but one to which we all belong, one founded by our humble Lord, who even cooked and served fish to his friends.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.