Since the 1990s, “booyah” has had a new meaning:
an exclamatory statement, often said when someone is extremely overjoyed. Often people do a hand movement simultaneously as they say ‘Booyah’(clinching fist and thrusting their elbow downward vertically).
Not in Mona Faye’s kitchen, however. This is the official “booyah.”
I have to admit that when I first joined the Lewis clan for their traditional New Year’s Supper, I thought I had misheard the name of this soup. Surely, it was “bouillion.” But when I got this little wedding gift from Mona Faye — a hand-written recipe book filled with family treasures — I realized that I didn’t mishear and they didn’t misspeak.
The tradition in my own slice of Lewis is to make this soup as soon as the weather turns brisk. Soups are really amazing. They are easy, requiring only one person’s presence somewhere in the house. They are cheap; I think I made a whole week’s worth of meals just today for about $5. They feel special; in contemporary times we don’t make a soup every day like our grandmothers did. The best recipes are the old ones — the kind you get over the phone or you remember without peeking at the instructions (notice my husband’s additional handwritten notes for the timing of each step and transcribed from a phone conversation.). They are crowd-pleasers; from adults to kids to toothless babes — everybody can enjoy soup. And they are really, really good for you.
Turns out, “booyahs” are way, way bigger than I realized. They even have their own wikipedia entry! The word comes from Green Bay, Wisconsin around 1905 (same year as our Perfection Salad made the news). Here’s the story:
Lester (Rentmeester) relates recollections of his schoolteacher father, Andrew, probably the “pioneer” of the chicken booyah supper. “At the old Finger Road School where he taught, funds were always in short supply,” he recalls. “So my father hit on the idea of a community picnic to raise money for the school. He went around to parents and neighbors, gathering up beef and chickens for the traditional Belgian soup that would be the main dish at the benefit affair. And he also went down to the office of the old Green Bay Gazette, looking for publicity.” The writer handling the news of the benefit picnic, so the story goes, asked what would be served. “Bouillon — we will have bouillon,” came the reply, with the word pronounced properly in French. “The young reporter wrote it down as he heard it,” Rentmeester relates. “It came out ‘booyah’ in the paper. It was booyah the first time it was served at Holy Martyrs of Gorcum Church — an affair my father also originated — and that’s what people have called it ever since.”
From the Walloon point of view, the original “Booyah” was bouillon– a broth made from boiling a chicken with onion and celery, salt and pepper. The chicken was taken from the pot when sufficiently cooked and used as the main course of the meal, and the broth served in individual bowls. An additional bowl of rice was put on the table with each person adding what he wanted, if any, to the broth. This was related to me by a woman of Belgian descent, born in Kewaunee County in 1895, who lived to be 95 years old. As a young person, she had never seen the style of “booyah” as we know it today. With the Belgians’ penchant for frugalness, nothing was wasted. Bits of leftover vegetables gradually were added to the chicken broth– and later, the chicken, too– to make a more flavorful soup, almost a one-dish meal.
So our Great Gramma Meyers’ version is the authentic Booyah! Impressive. Even down to the description that it feeds “a crowd!” I’m dying to know how it traveled down the Mighty Mississipp so far in such perfect condition. Booyah for Booyah!