Taste Fall at This Monk-Run Bakery Hidden in the Woods of Michigan

Silent monks sure make one loud, boozy rum cake.

sign to jam pot in forested road
Photo by Jennifer Billock
Photo by Jennifer Billock

The first time I met a group of silent monks in Michigan, the head baker Father Basil told me all about cookies and muffins. We weren’t breaking the rules, though. While the monks have mostly taken a vow of silence here at the Holy Protection Monastery, speaking is allowed for those—like Father Basil—who work in the bakery, The Jampot, which is nestled into the forest next to a tall waterfall.

“These muffins just came out of the oven,” Father Basil, who passed away last year, told me. “They’re banana-walnut and a bestseller.”

I could see why. The top of the muffin was nearly as big as my entire face. When I brought it back to the cottage I was staying at, I set it on the stove and it was larger than a standard burner. That single muffin lasted me three days, and it was deliciously moist the entire time.

Unless you regularly go up to the Keweenaw Peninsula (as far north as you can get in Michigan's UP), you probably don't know about these monks creating the perfect taste of fall. There’s only one road to get there, the M-26, and it winds through the woods, passing through tiny towns with bald eagles nesting in pine trees and waterfalls appearing out of nowhere. But once you get close, you can’t miss it. Not only does the air begin to smell like freshly baked gingerbread and cinnamon, but you’ll see a line out the door, possibly stretching down the street or into the parking lot.

monks making jam

The Jampot is small—it’s practically crowded with just seven people inside—but the treasures you’ll find are divine. Nearly all the ingredients used are from the Midwest, and the wild fruits and berries used in the jams, jellies, butters, conserves, and marmalades are all foraged by the monks and other locals from around the Keweenaw Peninsula.

That jam is actually how the bakery got started. The monastery opened in 1983, but the monks were struggling because of the harsh climate and lack of funds for food and repairs. In 1986, they began selling jam made from wild berries they found around the monastery. The jam was wildly popular, and now they’ve got the whole bakery, bringing in enough proceeds to sustain the monastery and its needs throughout the year.

pouring batter

Of course, that one muffin I grabbed didn’t stop me from buying enough baked goods to feed a small army. I also bought cookies (including my fall favorite, snickerdoodle), a walnut brownie, and some chocolates shaped like frogs. And that was just from the cashier's counter. The shelves surrounding the inside of the bakery are stuffed full of chocolate bark, brittles, preserves, and carefully wrapped fruitcakes.

When I say carefully wrapped, I mean it. Once you unfold the multiple layers, a strong smell of booze (either bourbon, brandy, rum, or port wine depending on the cake) hits you right in the nose. And then you have to unwrap the cheesecloth that’s underneath the outter wrap to get to the actual cake itself. These fruitcakes—ranging from Abbey Cake with just raisins to a Dried Fruit Cake with apples, apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, papaya, prunes, and golden raisins—are fully soaked. It seems like one cake has a whole bottle of alcohol. It’s great to warm you up in cooler weather, though approach with caution if you’re avoiding getting drunk off dessert.

trail mix bags

Some mornings, you can find cinnamon rolls, but it’s helpful to get there before they open for that; those sell out almost immediately. There’s also trail mix and coffee, making it the perfect place to start a hike through the Keweenaw’s absolutely stunning fall colors in early October. And definitely don’t miss the gingerbread pancake mix. The mix makes deliciously spiced and fluffy flapjacks so you can enjoy the bakery in your own kitchen.

The Jampot is open seasonally, usually from April to October or November. This year, the last day of the season is October 15, so get there soon. They’re closed on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays, and other days the bakery is open from 10 am to 5 pm.

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Jennifer Billock is a freelance writer and author, usually focusing on some combination of culinary travel, culture, sex, and history. Check her out at JenniferBillock.com and follow her on Twitter.