Lake Superior Flavors: A Field Guide to Food and Drink Along The Circle Tour

By James Norton, photography by Becca Dilley

(University of Minnesota Press, 240 pages, $24.29)

By Michael Sobota

At first glance I thought this was a cookbook. While Lake Superior Flavors does mention some specific meals and dishes, it is really a travelogue.

It does feature some restaurants, but it is more interested in the people behind the institutions, the people who grow and raise food and turn those products into delicious Northern meals.

The narrative moves around Lake Superior geographically, completing “the circle tour” from Minnesota across our Northern shore, and then down into Michigan and Wisconsin.

Thunder Bay and region are well-represented in Lake Superior Flavors. There are smartly written features, with personal interviews, of some of our best food producers and chefs.

We meet Harri Kurtti of Harri’s Bakery, Lisa Karkkainen of The Fish Shop, Arjen DeBruin of Debruin’s Greenhouses, and Jelena Psenicnik of The Growing Season Juice Collective.

Thunder Bay and region is actually the largest section in the book, with some 16 businesses getting attention. There is an in-depth section about Ojibway food traditions and Historic Fort William. Author James Norton even describes Kangas Sauna and Thunder Bay’s “quaint Beer Stores.”

The narrative, while relentlessly positive, is nonetheless engaging and not superficial. Norton describes a conversation he had with David and Lisa Abazs, of Round River Farm, in Finland, Minn. “We were looking at a household convenience that is nothing more than a metal box attached to a hole in their wall.

This is our zero-energy fridge, it’s for the winter, six months,’ says David. ‘It holds food right at freezing.’ My personal speculation is that David and Lisa’s ’fridge will serve them longer than six months this winter.”

The book is beautifully designed. Pages of text are broken up with well-designed headings that locate the reader as to where we are geographically.

There are also beautiful photographs, some full page. My only complaint is they are all black and white.

When we are looking at food or meals or inside of Naniboujou Lodge, a sunset at Knife Island, or even Harri’s smiling face in his bakery, the images would be enhanced with colour.

I appreciate that colour printing would have raised the cost of the book, but if you have seen the inside of Naniboujou Lodge, what you remember is that explosion of vivid colours all over the ceiling.

I liked being taken to different sites and meeting individuals in other locations around the lake. Norton writes with a folksy gift that is genuine and sincere when he is talking to strangers.

He brings out their personal information as well as the relevance to the bigger picture of locally grown and prepared foods. This is a fine volume and one I highly recommend.

(Michael Sobota is a Thunder Bay-based writer.)

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