Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Michigan

Now that we shared places to go and things to see in Michigan, let us enlighten you on the food and drink that has captivated us while traveling through this large and diverse state.  Because you know we did not spend over three months exploring this state and not dive into the food and beverage scene.  

May in Michigan means fresh asparagus.  We quickly learned asparagus was king in the spring as farmers markets and grocery stores touted their local delicacy.  Much to our happiness, we discovered there was an asparagus farm right down the road from our campground.  Since neither of us had ever visited an asparagus farm we were interested.  Asparagus is planted in rows like corn and when the little spears reach the desired size they are hand-picked.  The most noticeable traits of fresh asparagus is how sweet it is and how tender the stalks are making them perfect to eat raw.  Usually, fat asparagus has woody skin that I prefer to peel off, but that was not the case with these delights.  Pretty soon I was making asparagus soup, asparagus salad, grilled asparagus, and anything asparagus.  The farm sold it by the pound for $2.25 on the honor system.  Love that!

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Michigan cherries definitely deserve a mention as the state produces 75% of the country’s tart cherries.  You notice cherry trees everywhere which can only mean cherry everything.  Cherry pies, cherry wine, cherry barbecue sauce, cherry dog treats, cherry salsa . . . basically cherry everything.  It’s Betsy’s favorite fruit.  Cherry Republic is one such store/restaurant where you can explore and taste the wonderful world of cherries.  They have a large online following so you can get cherry everything shipped anywhere you like.  But, we think you will agree that the pinnacle of the cherry world is the good ole’ cherry pie.  Lots of places advertise “the best” cherry pie but the one we heard the most about was The Cherry Hut and had to try it.  A la mode, please.

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What do you get when you blend sugar, butter, and milk in a copper kettle over low heat then cool on a marble table?  If your guess is Fudge, you are correct.  We never saw so many fudge shops anywhere in the U.S. as we did in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. In fact, it was a little ridiculous but the good news is that all the shops offer free samples so you can fill up before you know it.  This creamy confection dates back to the late 1880’s when a woman in Baltimore claims to have whipped up the first batch.  But fudge came to Michigan shortly there after and Mackinaw Island is recognized as America’s Fudge Capital where 14 fudge shops make over 10,000 pounds per day during the peak travel season.  When tourists flocked to this area at the turn of the 19th century, they sought out candy as a special treat.  The smell of the candy cooking is luring enough pull you from the sidewalk into a confectionery.  Today's fudge is flavored in countless ways from traditional like nuts and fruit to the more creative filling of peanut butter, rum, and marshmallows.  Here’s a tip: all the stores offer free samples so you literally could eat a half pound without paying a cent. 

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When you venture up into the Upper Peninsula is when you will become familiar with pasties (pronounced PAS-TEE).  Think pot pie filling in a hand pie.   Dough is filled with meat, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga and baked to golden brown and served with ketchup or gravy. To understand pasties you have to know that the UP was, and still is, mining country.  Pasties were introduced to the UP in the mid-1800’s by European and Scandinavian immigrants who came to work in the copper and iron ore mines.  The miners would open their metal lunch pail and use their candle to heat the pastie thus providing a hearty lunch while working long hours in cold damp mines.  Pasties variations come from the different ethnicity preferences and culinary traditions.  For example, the Finnish people added carrots to their pasties.  Today, pasties remain pretty much the same as were around in the mid-1800’s.  We only found one pasty shop (Roy's Pasties and Bakery) that had creative variations like chicken and broccoli or turkey with cranberries and stuffing.  Nevertheless, we found them very hearty and filling.  It is evident pasties are not just a tourist food with pasties shops in every town and in the frozen food section of the grocery store.  How cute is the pastie below with a cutout of the Upper Peninsula on it?

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You only need to be in Michigan a short time to known that the craft beer scene has exploded.  Every town we stopped in had at least one, and usually two or three breweries.  To make all that beer, you need hops.  Michiganders realized their climate was ideal for growing hops and got to work.  Hops are a fast-growing vine (growing 18 feet in six weeks) upwards along rope until they are harvested in the fall.  Michigan is a distant fourth in overall production in the United States with Washington state claiming 77% of the total production but is important with so many breweries wanting to source locally.  The hop plant is dioecious meaning they have separate male and female plants. While only the female plant produces that distinctive cone used in the brewing process, it is the male plant that produces lupulin - the oils and resins that give hops their aroma.  After harvesting, hops are dried and incorporated in the brewing process as a flavoring and a stability agent in beer adding the bitter, zesty, or citric flavors.

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Some of you may be saying, “wait, what about Michigan wine?”  You’re right, we did skip over it in this post but that’s only because we covered that in previous posts (click here and here) and not because we shunned the grape goodness.  We apologize profusely if this post makes you hungry.  Look at it this way, at least you didn’t put on the pounds we did researching these subjects for your benefit!




4 comments:

  1. How cool is that? I had no idea that's how asparagus grew. Would love to try it fresh!
    Didn't realize that Michigan was such a destination.

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    1. We ate it everyday since it was so cheap and delicious.

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  2. The chicken and broccoli pasty from Roy's is my wife's favorite pasty. For a unique pasty did you try the green pepper one at Connie's Kitchen in Calumet, one of my favorites.

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    1. Roy's was by far our favorite and the chicken and broccoli was really good. Didn't eat at Connie's instead we opted for Toni's Country Kitchen which was good and they had potica.

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