I have once again found myself about 18 miles southwest of Copper Harbor, Michigan inside the lovely Jampot Bakery, owned and operated by the holy order of the the Society of St. John. It’s my third visit in as many weeks to this hallowed ground, where black-robed monks have decided to glorify god through the art of baked goods. Today, most of the shop’s customers seem to be those who have relocated and have felt compelled to make the pilgrimage back to their favorite spot in the Upper Peninsula (I spoke to a retired couple who are returning for the first time since moving to Maryland). This strong feeling of nostalgia appears to be universal. Even after nineteen years of loyal patronage, I still find it mesmerizing, as if it were the first time I stepped up onto the bakery’s rickety wooden porch and through its bright red door. As my eyes adjust from the blinding daylight to the dimness of the tiny room, I get right down to business. Scanning the cluttered shelves in hopes to spot something involving chocolate, my gaze falls on a hand-packaged collection of half a dozen hearty cookies. I reach to grab it, look up at the monk behind the counter, and comment, “Gosh, these almost feel warm!”
“They are warm,” he corrects me with a grin. “Oatmeal-raisin-peanut butter-chocolate chip.” This feels like entrapment – I thought the monastic lifestyle was meant to separate oneself from the sin of the world, yet here they are, creating vast quantities of delicious stumbling blocks that will lead me astray. Gluttony is certainly a sin – I know my Bible – but how can something be wrong when it tastes so right?
Attempting in vain to not salivate right in front of this austere, bearded baker monk, I set the cookies down next to the rest of my rapidly-growing collection of treats. In a place which overtly displays its pure and holy nature, the only sin I can imagine would be to leave the shop without at least a solid month’s worth of bakery (and let me tell you: I will NOT be needing to repent this visit).
The Jampot Bakery, nestled near the Lake Superior coast in the woods of the Keweenaw Peninsula, is the fruit of the labor of the Monastic Order of the Society of St. John. These monks have made it their life’s work to build a working monastery in this remote, beautiful place, and the Jampot serves the dual purpose of raising funds for the monastery and creating an attitude of service, focus, work. In all earnestness, these men are baking to glorify god.
From their website, “The Monastic Vocation“:
We came to the shore of Lake Superior at Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s Keweenaw County in late Summer of 1983 and began the struggle of building this monastery. The unlikely work of picking wild berries and making jam we undertook during our first summer proved the seed of larger things. Our jam shop and bakery, Jampot, has become one of the best known businesses in our area and now more than provides for our physical needs….
Called more than twenty-five years ago to the task of founding a monastery dedicated to building up God’s Kingdom through the arts, we joyfully persevere in the struggle, mindful of the long road ahead and grateful for the many consolations and graces the Lord continues to provide. Truly, He has prospered the work of our hands….
We practice the various renunciations traditional to religious life. Commonly called the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience — to which monks add a vow of stability — these Evangelical Counsels seek to eliminate the many distractions and obstacles that plague us in the world and impede our openness to God. Setting aside acquisitiveness, sexual desire, self will, and wanderlust, we are free to devote ourselves to God. Emptying ourselves of worldly concerns, we make room for the Divine.
To that end, the monks have created one of the finest bakeries I’ve ever come across. Open from May until October (peak tourist season), it is home to a diverse selection of baked goods, jams, jellies, and candies. And these aren’t your mom’s BETTY CROCKER recipes- these are true originals, slow food before slow food was a thing. Some of the highlights include: brandy-moistened lemon pound cake, cinnamon sourdough breakfast bread, rum raisin brownies, cream cheese pound cake muffins (which contain, to my delight, a generous amount of almond extract), chocolate pound cake muffins with coffee/cream cheese frosting, gingerbread muffins with lemon butter frosting, orange truffles, ginger truffles, almond truffles, pear-cinnamon jelly, highbush cranberry jelly, brandied peach jam, wild strawberry jam, and cranberry ginger jelly. You can order from the Jampot website year-round.
Most customers walk away with a modest one or two paper bags in which rest a couple muffins or jars of jam. I, however, always seem to leave with at least a small cardboard box packed snugly with my favorite goodies. What can I say? I’m a true “one of everything” kind of gal.
Lucky for me, despite their rare and gourmet status, most of these treats are quite reasonably priced. The affordability at which the monks offer their products may persuade you to throw a buck or two into their normally heaping tip basket (they’re some of the most charming guys you’ve ever seen, eyes twinkling, bearded).
Once the shopping has been done, many people choose to head over to the nearby beach at Great Sand Bay, or to the adjacent Jacob’s Falls to take pictures, explore, or just find a sunny spot to relax. I like to go around to the porch on the side of the shop to enjoy a few bites of my purchases with friends or family. If you are really keen on getting a true “yooper” experience, however, it should be noted that some of the densest patches of thimbleberries (an Upper Peninsula delicacy – despite what you may have heard, they do exist) in the area can be found right around the Jampot- just look for bright red berries surrounded by what look like maple leaves.
“Oh my god.”
“Isn’t that wonderful?”
“It’s amazing. And the people there are just so NICE!”
If I can take the liberty (just this once) to bring back the literal implications of the word “awesome,” then I would have to agree. The Jampot is exactly that.
Story and photos by: Terra Schneider