If you aren’t familiar with BOOYA, you probably didn’t spend your childhood in the Upper Midwest. Think of booya as an event, with the star of the show being a rich and flavorful stew. When I was a kid in St. Paul, Minnesota, booyas cropped up in the fall of the year. They were and still are a popular way to raise money for churches, youth groups, sports teams, politicians, you-name-it… Or booyas can simply be a neighborhood get-together before the long months of winter take hold.
The origins of booya might lie in France, Belgium, or maybe Canada, but every booya group has their own special recipe featuring meat (an assortment of oxtail, pork, chicken, turkey and the occasional mystery roast from the bottom of someone’s freezer), vegetables (including all or some of the following: onions, carrots, peas, cabbage, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, celery, green pepper and my personal favorite: rutabagas) and of course, a super secret blend of spices.
Timing is everything where booya is concerned. Like when to add which ingredients, how long to let the concoction simmer in giant kettles (more than a day at a minimum) and how often to stir it with canoe paddles or Paul Bunyan-sized spoons. Yep, it’s lumpy, a little funky, but absolutely delicious. With a mandatory pile of crackers for dunking.
Last August my husband and I went to the first booya we’d been to since we were teenagers. This booya had two long lines of folks waiting for the booya shack to open. One orderly line (this is Minnesota, after all) for booya by the bowl, one equally orderly line for booya by the bucket to bring home to freeze. Note: it’s BYOB (Bring Your Own Bucket).
We got in the bowl line and listened to Minnesota accents thick as the stew: “Oh yah, this is theeee best booya around.” “You betcha I’m getting a bowl and a bucket. One bucket might not be enough though, this stuff tastes awwwfully good come January, don’t ya know!”
We enjoyed our bowls of brown goodness along with a beer, polka music and plenty of people watching. Next year, I’m bringing a bucket!
A big pot of booya has a lot in common with writing. Most of us have a pot full of story ideas and characters bubbling away in our heads for days, weeks, months and years. Writers are always digging deep in their pot of ideas, scooping up a story, trying it out for a while, only to dump it back into the pot to simmer longer.
I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s saying, “the years teach much which the days never know.” I’m a slow writer. It frustrates me. A lot. Especially as it seems the years roll by faster and faster. But, I’m hoping that the work I do serve up, oozes savory flavor from years of reading, studying and experimenting with writing for children. (BTW: I personally can’t believe how many quotable things Mr. Emerson wrote and said in his lifetime. If I’d known him, I would have followed him around with a notebook and recorded every word that he uttered!)
On a late winter’s day it’s fun to think about booya in August, but I’m also thinking about the butterflies of summer. At least six species of butterflies are currently on the Endangered Species List. One of them is the Karner blue. Karner blues are part of a book I’m working on. (A book that I practically scraped off the bottom of my story pot) Seeing a Karner blue in the wild is on my summer bucket list. And that’s my final B thing. Except to mention a favorite nonfiction author and his witty and informative alphabet book about butterflies.
THE BUTTERFLY ALPHABET BOOK by Jerry Pallotta and naturalist, Brian Cassie. (Charlesbridge 1995). A great read on a late winter’s day when summer isn’t all that far away…