Appetites: For all of Lake Superior's food gems, go full circle

Lake Superior Flavors
Scenes from "Lake Superior Flavors: A Field Guide to Food and Drink along the Circle Tour."
Courtesy Becca Dilley / The Heavy Table

Audio slideshow: Becca Dilley talks about how she approached taking photographs for a new book on food near Lake Superior.

The world's largest freshwater lake is an obvious source of inland seafood, but its shoreline communities have honed a much broader food culture worth exploring.

James Norton and Becca Dilley of the Heavy Table blog spent some time chronicling what the area has to offer in their new book, "Lake Superior Flavors: A Field Guide to Food and Drink along the Circle Tour."

Norton joined MPR News' Tom Crann to talk about what they found. Here are highlights of the conversation, edited for length and style:

A comprehensive take

"There are North Shore guides; sometimes they poke into the South Shore in Bayfield and Ashland, that sort of stuff. But we thought, 'wouldn't it be interesting to look into the whole region, soup-to-nuts.' "

"We're at a point, nationally speaking, where food culture is waking up and really taking advantage of that which is seasonal and that which is local. Superior is no exception.

"Thunder Bay was a real eye-opener for us. There are some wonderful green shoots of food going on there ... Most people stop at Grand Marais, but there are reasons to go further."

South Shore highlights

"Michael Stanitis, a cheese maker near Cornucopia, Wis. on the South Shore, is a very cosmopolitan dude. Every night, he'll make a cosmopolitan or a martini, and he'll take his goats out for a walk in the woods so they can forage.

"It's emblematic of some of the best food we found made near the lake by these individuals who are aren't making a ton of money, but they are passionate about it and they are good at it. They've carved out these wonderful little niches.

"[In the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan] there are a group of monks who make their living at a store called The Jampot. They sell all kinds of jams, truffles, muffins and cupcakes.

"They also make this really remarkable fruitcake called abbey cake. They say it's moistened with bourbon -- I think soaked might be more accurate. It's a powerful cake. Local nuts and fruits are stuffed in it; it's got a molasses flavor and it keeps forever. It was one of my favorite discoveries."

The big lake's pull

"The cold, clean water of Lake Superior really is the common theme across all of these foods. Fish grow slowly but have a firm, clean texture.

"That aesthetic of cleanliness, neatness and purity governs much of the food -- and even the locally brewed beer.

"And just like people who grew up near the Rocky Mountains or the Himalayas, if Lake Superior natives leave, they miss its presence. It really holds a magnetic force, and that can't help but influence how people eat and drink."

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