“The food is not gourmet, it is simple, local food,” Minneapolis food writer Beth Dooley (above) announced at the beginning of “A Taste of the Apostles.” The pilot run of an adventure combining kayaking and local food up in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, “A Taste of the Apostles” was conceived through Dooley’s conversations with Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Associate Director of Wilderness Inquiry (WI). This August, 15 self-selected lucky people spent four days camping, kayaking the sea caves, eating, and talking about food with each other and local farmers. The Midwest is catching on to the culinary travel trend.
Although other companies (such as Learn Great Foods) offer culinary tours of the Upper Midwest, WI’s “A Taste of the Apostles” ($695 included 4 days, 3 nights, and all the meals and equipment) is the first to incorporate the outdoorsy physical element of camping and kayaking.
“There is nothing better than working hard kayaking only to know there is a delicious meal waiting at the end of the day,” says Jen Wheeler, a therapist from Seattle who joined two single friends from other cities on the trip. The foodie angle attracted a good number of baby boomers; but there were singles of all ages, as well as couples, and two mother / daughter pairs. One of the mother / daughter pairs was Megan O’Hara, a former chair of Homegrown Minneapolis and local food advocate, and her daughter Grace Rybak. Husband & father R.T. Rybak, Mayor of Minneapolis, joined them for the second half of the trip.
Dooley gathered local ingredients for all of the meals and invited the local vendors and farmers to come in the evening, joining the group to eat, talk, and drink. Clare Hintz, Campus Sustainability Coordinator at nearby Northland College, provided honey from their student garden — perhaps one of the most oooh’ed and ah’ed about ingredients of the trip. Drizzled over a dollop of goat cheese with a crack of pepper, it was a deceptively simple combination that impressed. Thanks to the light and fluffy cheese named “Lake Effect” by local artisanal cheesemaker Sassy Nanny, the thick creamy honey added depth to the rich inviting appetizer.
Paired with White Winter Winery’s lovely sparkling honey wine, My Faire Lady, and some other nibbles, it was a pleasure to be back at the campsite after an active day. Sales from the honey fund the Northland student campus garden, which is responsible for the honey production as well as for growing vegetables for the school cafeteria — a component of their hands-on experiential curriculum.
A hilarious debate broke out about whether this trip constituted *glamping* — shorthand for glamorous camping. When nobody paid any mind to a light rain that joined the camp at cocktail hour the following night, it became clear that for this crowd, food was the driver.
Conversation flowed easily over the course of the trip. Tips exchanged ranged from homemade ghee as a way to make butter more digestible, to sage advice about a perfect foodie date night: start with “Big Night,” Stanley Tucci’s delightful 1996 movie about two brothers who own a restaurant. “Watch hungry, but have reservations at an amazing Italian restaurant afterwards!” one woman instructed. Everyone nodded obediently.
One day, after an exciting time kayaking the sandstone sea caves, we were treated to a fish fry on the beach hosted by Nick VanderPuy, a representative of the Hawk clan, and Keith Bresette of Apostle Island Fisheries (and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa) who had caught the Lake Superior whitefish for us just hours earlier. As we sat on the sands of Lake Superior eating, with the sun setting behind him, Nick discussed the traditions of being a hunter / gatherer. Growing up in the 60’s “an elder took me out and showed me the old fashioned way to knock [collect] rice. You take care of the rice, the rice will take care of you.” He shared anecdotes while walking us through the seasons and the subsequent changing focus of their harvest: corn, squash, berries, deer, rabbit, fish…. many of which were featured in the meal before us. “We don’t hunt for trophies, we hunt for food. If I ever let a fish go my grandmother would have thrown me out of the boat!” Nick joked.
Lessons in sustainability and cultural rituals were really interesting, but the truth is, for this group, the food had to deliver. It did. Highlights were many and not limited to dinner. Sous chef / WI trip leader (and pancake-flipping contest initiator) Matthew Heuer made great blueberry pancakes one morning and on another a unique and amazing breakfast hash of crispy bacon pieces mixed with mounds of chopped basil and feta (all local, of course). Served next to scrambled eggs (and strong coffee) we were always fortified for our day’s activities.
Everything we ate and drank was thoughtfully prepared. Lemonade was infused with fresh mint and craft beer from New Glarus Brewing Company was available – including the state’s second best selling beer, Spotted Cow. Despite its popularity, the owner adamantly refuses to distribute outside of Wisconsin so that she can continue to focus on the beer’s quality. Dessert wine was paired one night with lemon shortbread piled high with fresh berries. The farmers who harvested the blueberries joined in on the party and enjoyed our enthusiastic attention.
Several ears perked up as the two shared the story of how they had met: through the niche online dating website farmersonly.com, an interesting example of how modern ways have crept into such a back-to-basics lifestyle (perhaps for the best?). And yes, for all interested parties, we’ve confirmed that this site is not just for farmers but open to farmer enthusiasts as well.
The weather cooperated and over several days the group was able to kayak single file inside the amazing sea caves, which can be quite deadly with rough water. Over time wave erosion has carved undercuts beneath the sand stone cliffs that have formed pillars, arches, vaults, tunnels, and chambers. The darkened walls are a beautiful mix of bright oranges, reds, blues, and brown, often covered by green moss. Light peaks inside around corners and the sound of water gently sloshing and echoing in the small caverns is quite serene. Then it’s the perfect time to start fantasizing about what Beth has got cooking for dinner back at camp.
Details for (potential) future Tastes of the Apostles trips will appear on the Wilderness Inquiry site.