A family portrait of White Gull Inn founder Dr. Herman Welcker, his wife Henriette, and only daughter Mathilda. Courtesy of the White Gull Inn.

The Door County fish boil is a culinary tradition local to the peninsula that spawned the invention of the two-sided spork. This unique cooking utensil made its first appearance at the White Gull Inn in the 1960s. The White Gull Inn’s history stretches back to 1896 when Dr. Herman Welcker, a German immigrant and medical practitioner left medicine to enter the tourism business and built this Door County institution.[1] At the time, Fish Creek, Wisconsin, was an up-and-coming tourist destination. Today, the inn retains its historic charm with a spacious porch, wood furniture, and floral wallpaper and serves as one of the go-to places for a fish boil in the area.

Photo of Master Boiler working. Courtesy of the White Gull Inn.

In the mid-1960s, owners of the White Gull Inn and other establishments in Fish Creek came up with the innovative idea to offer fish boils, an event typically reserved for church gatherings and community events, for tourists. At these fish boils, the Master Boiler cooked a meal of fish, potatoes, and vegetables over a roaring fire in an impressively large 22-gallon stainless steel pot.[2] Custom made by a local welder, two stainless steel baskets rest inside the oversized pot, allowing the Master Boiler to lift the food from the boiling water.[3]

White Gull Inn. Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society, WHS #125881

Russ Ostrom, a shipbuilder from nearby Sturgeon Bay, was a long-time attendee of community fish boils, where he often brought his accordion to entertain guests while the Master Boiler prepared the meal.[4] One night, in a pinch, the owners of the White Gull Inn asked Ostrom to fill in as Master Boiler, an opportunity that turned into a decades-long career at the helm of the White Gull’s boil.

Close up of the two-sided spork being used at the White Gull Inn. Photo courtesy of the White Gull Inn.

At some point during his term, Ostrom invented the two-sided spork, a simple instrument that serves the cooking needs of the Master Boiler.[5] Essentially, it is a ladle and a two-pronged fork secured together at the handle. The utensil’s ladle looks like any you’d find in a normal kitchen: metal and about a foot and a half long. Similarly sized, the fork has a one-and-a-half-foot-long handle with metal prongs protruding at the end. The two tools are bolted together at the middle, creating a massive, three-foot-long utensil.

The fork’s main purpose is to test the potatoes for doneness, a key step in timing out the perfect boil-over. The ladle, on the other hand, scoops the foam and debris off the top of the pot. Nobody is quite sure why Ostrom created this tool, but the current manager’s theory is that he simply got tired of carrying two separate instruments![6] Regardless of this theory’s accuracy, the invention of the two-sided spork and the Door County fish boil highlight the ingenuity of Wisconsinites – they take what is available to them and make something great.

Written by Maddy McGlone, May 2021.


[1] “Welcome to the White Gull Inn,” The White Gull Inn, accessed April 9, 2021 https://www.whitegullinn.com/about-us#:~:text=The%20White%20Gull%20Inn%20has,Meredith%20and%20Chris%20Coulson%2DKanter.

[2] Meredith Coulson-Kanter, email message to author, February 17, 2021.

[3] Meredith Coulson-Kanter, email message to author, March 2, 2021.

[4]  Patricia Wells, “Fish Boil: Culinary Tradition In Bunyan Country,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 1979.

[5] Meredith Coulson-Kanter, email message to author, February 17, 2021.

[6] Meredith Coulson-Kanter, email message to author, March 2, 2021.

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