A few months ago, reader bb stacker told me about a coworker who holds a bi-annual booya at his home in Apple Valley. I was going to head over there, take a few pictures and learn about the making of the soup/chili concoction ever so popular in this neck of the woods, however, after spending only a few minutes with the family as they prepared the meal I realized ‘booyah’ is more about the process and event surrounding the meal rather than the meal itself.
bb stacker and I headed over to the Cartier family’s home near Apple Valley High School and we arrived just after 6 PM. In the family’s garage were several stations setup at folding tables, each assigned to a different task:
Celery / Onion
Two men, including the official booyah chef, were skinning and cutting up chickens, 40lbs of them purchased at some prior time from a family who raises them. As he was cutting, covered in grease and chicken slime, he explained they cook the chicken first, overnight, and after giving the fire one final stoke at 2 AM, the kettle is left to cool until around 8:30 AM. After cooling, they remove all the chicken and pull out any bones.
Next I headed over to the meat station where 25lbs of beautifully marbled beef was being cubed by a man in a butcher apron. He was drinking from a glass of red wine which never seemed to get below about half-full at any given time throughout his work. I asked him how he got lucky enough to be cutting the beef and with a little shrug and a hearty chuckle he replied, “just happened that way this year, I guess.”
I skirted around the potato station which was nearly finished peeling and cubing 40lbs of the tuber, the celery and onion station which seemed to have no tears, and finally stopped at the carrot station and met one of the Cartier daughters who was nervously joking with everyone that her carrot cutting skills would not live up to the high standards set by the last person to stand at the station. The daughter was quickly reminded by her aunt that no one would live up to perfection required by her grandmother.
Being someone who can’t stand in a kitchen and not feel useless, I asked if they needed any help. I was directed to the bathroom in the house to wash up, handed a knife, and put to work cutting carrots. After a quick lesson in proper Cartier technique, I was off and on my way to my own worry about not living up to the expectations set by the generations before me.
While cutting, I was informed people from all over the country and world were attending this year’s booya. Some of the places represented for 2012: Missouri, Georgia, Switzerland and likely many others I forget. I have to admit I was not only impressed with the fact that people travel such distances for the event but also that I began to realize that this is so much more than making soup, it’s bringing family together to spend time with friends both old and new.
After the chickens were successfully carved and skinned, I was given a private lesson about the family’s booya history, methods, and recipe. The recipe, crafted decades before, was handed down and is stored on a simple piece of white paper, typed in uppercase, and sits side-by-side with another Cartier Family’s own more recent recipe, cooked in Alaska during the 1990s. With some modifications, including elimination of 3lbs of salt and a lot more chicken, the bi-yearly Minnesota booya is tracked on pieces of notepad paper which show the different types and amounts of spices used each time it’s cooked.
The booya kettle, wagon wheels, and one homemade ladle are the only remnants of the original setup. After scouring a Wisconsin roadside junkyard years ago and finding a pile of cast iron stove doors, a hybrid booya kettle was crafted and has been used ever since, hopefully to be passed down to future Cartier generations who seem eager to help with the preparations and enjoy spending time with their own friends who have been coming to the Apple Valley gathering since it was restarted in 2000.
Eventually I had to say my goodbyes to the very friendly people getting everything ready for the booyah; I had a sick wife to tend to. The Cartiers all made sure to send their wishes for a speedy recovery for The Wife and hoped they would see her and the kiddos the following day.
We arrived on Saturday evening just as a Harvest Moon was rising over the trees and the sun was setting; how appropriate, right? The festivities were in full swing with the street in front of their house down to a single lane due to the number of cars parked on both sides of the street for quite some distance around the home. The garage was packed and the side entrance heading to the beautiful metal shop in the backyard was also full of those celebrating the harvest, many with beers and booyah in hand, wandering around chatting with others and circling the workshop looking for another potluck appetizer or beautiful homemade dessert.
After picking up two steaming bowls of the beef, chicken, and vegetable soup I made my way through the thick crowd to find The Rooster, The Wife, and The Koala who were crouched down less than ten feet from where a bright purple piñata was hanging from a rope slung over a tree in the middle of the yard. A group of ~15 kids were lined up awaiting their 30 second turn at blindly hitting the candy-filled creation with a wooden bat which had seen years of heavy use. With The Wife happy to provide her own help for the booya, this time as official timekeeper for the event, The Rooster expressed interest in trying his hand at making a dent in the piñata. Once he was handed the bat and given his instructions, The Rooster froze and dropped the bat opting to run back to hang onto the safety net my legs provided as I video taped the final few hits delivered by the youngsters tasked with opening the treats for everyone else. After the candy was knocked free and the rush to collect the sugar coated sugar was complete, we finished up our booya and let The Rooster run off some energy with his new friends as The Koala finished her own dinner.
The booya itself was slightly reddish in color with the requisite spices floating on top. The booya chef opts to throw them in stating, “it’s a soup after all,” instead of lowering a cheesecloth bag with them into the liquid as some others choose to do. The chicken was rendered down to stringy strips of meat, while the beef cubes added with only a few hours remaining, retained their shape and texture but were full of flavor. The carrots, potatoes, celery and beans were tender and I received several positive comments about my excellent carrot cutting skills; something I deferred to the training provided by the family members giving me pointers to help channel ‘Grandma’. While I believe the 3lbs of salt used in the original family recipe may have been a bit much, a fraction of that may be desirable for the future. While the flavors were all there, it took a few short shakes of a nearby Tabasco bottle to make the already robust flavors really pop. However, with everyone noting the soup was “fantastic”, “hearty”, and most often, “the embodiment of fall in Minnesota,” it’s clear the Cartier Booya 2012 was definitely a huge hit with those who know far more about this Upper Midwest tradition than I could ever claim.
Just as darkness began to fully envelope the yard, we packed the family up, said our goodbyes to our new and old friends and especially our hosts and made our way back to the car while the party raged on threatening to finish the estimated 7 gallons of booya possibly leaving nothing for the family to freeze and enjoy over the next two years before it happens all over again.
I was thrilled to be a part of a booya from its genesis up through its completion. After nearly a decade in Minnesota I felt a connection with the community and food which I had not yet understood until that beautiful moonlit Saturday evening. If you haven’t ever had the opportunity to partake in one of these events, I highly recommend you get your hands dirty from the start and get involved with one. It’s definitely far more about the history, family and friends than the meal itself but who could possibly complain about enjoying a beautiful fall evening with friends, beer, and a hearty and steaming bowl of soup under a full moon? Not too many I’m sure.