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Lots of salt and a curtain of fire

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Some people go to Door County, Wisconsin, for its limestone cliffs that overlook cerulean waters, or for its country roads, which meander past cherry and apple orchards to art galleries and tiny villages sporting quaint names like Fish Creek, Egg Harbor, and Sister Bay.

My family and I go to watch water foam over the tops of huge caldrons. We are fish-boil groupies. We can't resist the ambiance and dramatics of the fire-lighting and preparation ceremony. So each August, after we take in the thrills of the annual Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Fly-In in Oshkosh, we head north about two hours on Highway 42.

Shakespeare's caldrons in "Macbeth" may have bubbled fellet of fenny snake, eye of newt, or toe of frog, but the vigorously boiling caldrons of Door County hold only succulent whitefish and little red potatoes. And these hearty foods bring fish-boil aficionados back to this area each summer.

Nothing says Door County like the traditional fish boil. Not the quaint signs seen around the area - "Not Licked Yet Frozen Custard," "YGOBY Housekeeping Cabins," or "Butik" variety store - or the distinctive colloquialisms: "Take Main Street straight as a string."

Not even the goats grazing on the thatched roof of A.L. Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay. Cherry pies and fish boils - that's Door County.

Legend traces this tradition back to the early Scandinavian pioneer settlers (later adopted by the lumbermen of the last century) who resourcefully devised the technique of cooking the abundant whitefish and lake trout with potatoes in a large pot outdoors over a roaring wood fire.

Our favorite place for a fish boil is the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, where on Wednesdays and weekends people gather round a black caldron suspended over a wood fire to watch as the water begins to boil.

We wait in anticipation for the show to begin, under the direction of "master boiler" Marc Paulson. As a warm-up, accordion player Lou Close serenades the observers with an overture of bouncy German polkas. When the concert reaches its climax, the festivities begin.

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