Booyah-a midwestern family tradition

What family recipe do you reach for when your blue? What recipe do you reach for when you are looking to celebrate? What family recipe brings you comfort, makes you think of those warm comfortable days when you were all together?

You know, those recipes that say so much about where we came from and in fact, who we are. My family recipe book reflects my mixed descent: Swedish, English, Dutch, German, Italian and largely Midwestern. With the recent passing of my beloved Grandmother DeWitt I immediately started rifling through my cache of handwritten recipes; many of my family recipes have a special place tucked between the pages of another family tradition: The Joy of Cooking.  The recipe that I pull out will always remind me of the simple love I shared with my Grandmother: the recipe for Booyah. To me, family recipes are like family portraits and I wanted to relive my past a bit.

If you aren’t from the midwest, then you’ve missed out on some of the most underrated family style food in the country. Booyah is truly a regional food, served during celebrations, festivals or fundraisers in the midwest. Booyah, because it is meant to be served in large groups serves up images of neighbor and community gatherings.  Shindigs where children run around chasing one another unabated by parents and parents enjoy a beer (“brewski”) unabated by children. Booyah, with its simple, but varied ingredients is a metaphor for the people of Midwest and indeed, my family. The slow simmers it evokes the warmth of family, the blending of flavors. The simple broth warms the soul even on the coldest of northern Midwestern nights or the bleakest of checking accounts. The rich smell of a simple chicken broth bubbling on the stove in a warm house filled with love is a cozy welcoming to the coldest of souls and bodies. Booyah is always meant to be shared.  Booyah is family. Growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin I remember outdoor winter festivals held despite fridgid, below zero temperatures. Pot-bellied men, who knew each other from gradeschool, keeping watch  around ginourmous kettles holding 300+ gallons of boiling Booyah with hot salty steam escaping; the scent of condensing chicken broth, bones and vegetables suspended in the air. The aforementioned soup guardians were always selling the soup for the parish. Although the recipe and tradition Booyah started in Green Bay, Wisconsin it is served just this way throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The history of Booyah is a typical American-fare tale. A man named Andrew Rentmeester, a Flemish descendant who lived in the Preble township in the Green Bay area went to the Green Bay Press Gazette to promote a parish fundraiser for which he had collected chickens and beef from the neighbors. When asked by the newspaper writer what would be served he said “bouillon-we will be serving bouillon”, but his properly accented pronunciation was interpreted as “Booyah” and printed in the article as such.

Like every family in Green Bay, my Grandmother had a recipe. Booyah doesn’t require much cooking skill, only a large pot and Grandma’s was pared down to feed a mere 10-12 people. Her recipe features “rutabaga” which is undoubtedly a nod to her Swedish roots, as no other Booyah recipe I find features it. The recipe was given to me after my father’s passing and in true kinsfolk tradition, it has no directions, only ingredients and amounts. And it is written on FMC stationary. FMC being the company where my Grandfather worked for 30+ years. He worked there so long, that when he passed, long after his retirement, many of his living peers showed up to ensure that we knew what a kind man he was. The memory of those kind words still warm me as much as Booyah.

I’ll be publishing some family recipes over the next month or so, with a particular slant towards comfort food. If you want to send me your story with the recipe, I’ll publish it-promise.

Here is Grandma DeWitt’s Booyah Recipe: (areas in italics have been added by me)

Dissemble an entire chicken and brown with butter, onions and celery

In a large stock pot, add the chicken, + 2 cups of chicken broth to the pan simmer with:

1 cup rutabaga (turnip)

1 cup peas (canned is OK)

1 cup wax beans

1 cup tomato

add bay leaf, carrots and potatoes to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Simmer for 3+ hours. Let chicken fall of the bone and continue to cook. (Remove bones before serving if desired) Serve with rice if desired.

The following items may also be added:

corn (fresh or canned)

parsley

Here is another link to Booyah recipe and family story.

And another recipe posted on the UW Green Bay site.

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.