This evening we head to our first booyah (though our hosts spell it without the “h”).
Not to be confused with sportscaster Stuart Scott’s or money guy Jim Cramer’s exuberant catch-phrase, the booyah under discussion here is a thick meat-and-vegetable stew boiled outdoors in a huge pot. It is also the name of the event at which such fare is served to the public.
Booyah is a Midwestern thing, and more particularly Upper Midwestern. A booyah is a long-simmering broth-based stew, almost always involving chicken, vegetables, and spices, and often beef and/or pork. It is cooked in purpose-built, steel “booyah kettles,” which can hold 50 gallons or more. Booyahs are often held as fund-raisers for churches, schools, fire departments, or VFWs.
Wikipedia, always a dependable source, tells us that in 1976, Green Bay’s Lester Rentmeester (b. 1919) recounted to the Green Bay Press-Gazette that his father, Andrew, had originated the booyah, possibly around 1905. (I was unable to find the purported original newspaper article online.)
Lester’s account includes a plausible explanation for the odd name. His father was Flemish and the stew he prepared for the first booyah was a traditional Belgian recipe. When Andrew went to the local newspaper to garner publicity for his planned fund-raiser, the young reporter on duty asked him what he would be serving. “Boullion,” Andrew replied, pronouncing it in the proper French manner. The kid reporter wrote down what he heard and the booyah was born.
A slightly different origin story, with a similar cast of characters, is told on the UW Green Bay website.
The Pioneer Press annually runs a list of upcoming public booyahs around the Twin Cities. Here is 2015’s list; booyah season is nearly at an end.
The booyah we are attending isn’t public, and isn’t on the foregoing list. A neighbor we don’t know yet slipped an invitation into our front vestibule a couple of weeks back (I have anonymized it for our hosts’ privacy). I assume that they invited folks from a few blocks around.
If you had told me a few months ago that I would be going to a booyah, I would have stared at you blankly. The word doesn't signify anything to this Easterner. However, the local people to whom we have mentioned our plans all just nodded as if attending a booyah in the fall were the most natural thing in the world.