For many people around the United States “BOOYAH” is excited slang for something intense and amazing that just happened. ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott brought the term mainstream as an in-your-face trash-talk on the sports field. A posterizing dunk: BOOYAH! An absolutely crushed homerun: BOOYAH! A one-handed touchdown hail mary catch a la Aaron Rodgers: BOOYAH!
Green Bay knows plenty about that last point. But Green Bay also knows Booyah as something that has nothing to do with sports.
Folks from Northeastern Wisconsin attribute Booyah to a hot bowl of the comfiest of foods. This Belgian soup has been a local favorite for more than a century. But what the heck is Booyah and why does it have such a ridiculous name?
Let’s start with the what before we can dive into the why.
Each Booyah chef adds his or her own flair to each batch, but at the essence of Booyah is basically a stew made up of mixed vegetables, thick broth, meat, and a variety of seasonings. Popular vegetables include potatoes, peas, carrots, cabbage, celery, and rutabaga. The meat is usually chicken, with an ox tail for extra flavor.
Booyah can take a couple days and all-hands-on-deck to prepare, so it’s often cooked in 20 or 50 gallon batches in large black cast iron kettles over a wood burning fire. It’s most commonly found at large family gatherings or church picnics. You can also buy a bowl from places like Zesty's or Kroll's West.
There are dozens, probably hundreds, of Booyah recipes out there. The stories about how Booyah came to be and why it’s called Booyah has just as many variations. Here are two of my favorites I found when trying to answer the same question that has been asked by Green Bay foodies and local historians: Why is Booyah called Booyah?
Ashley Steinbrinck, of WhooNEW.com, claims a man named Andrew Rentmeester is responsible for the origin of Booyah. Rentmeester became a teacher at Finger Road School in Green Bay in 1906. Upon walking into his classroom, he was dismayed to find no books for the students.
A fundraiser was organized to purchase much needed school supplies for local kids. Rentmeester decided to cook a large batch of soup and sell it to raise money. To build awareness of this fundraiser and invite the public, Rentmeester spoke with a journalist for the Green Bay Press Gazette. When the journalist asked what would be served at this fundraiser, Rentmeester replied “bouillon”, which is the French word for soup. The journalist asked Rentmeester how to spell that, to which he spelled out “B-O-O-Y-A-H”. The newspaper printed it that way and for every soup fundraiser after that.
But why did a teacher not know how to spell this word? According to Andrew Rentmeester’s son, Lester, Andrew was a lumberjack before he became a teacher. He spoke no French, so when asked to spell the French word “bouillon”, he just sounded it out. The soup recipe belonged to Rentmeester’s mother, who came to America from Belgium and spoke French. According to this story, a simple misspelled word has now become a local, cultural phenomenon.
Monette Bebow-Reinhard, a Green Bay native, lays her own family-claims to the origin of this Belgian soup. So there’s one thing in common - it is in fact of Belgian decent. But that’s where the similarities between these two stories stop. Bebow-Reinhard tells the story of her grandfather, Alex Hannon, cooking the first batch of Booyah as a 12-year-old boy. Hannon was trying to replicate his Belgian immigrant mother’s chicken soup. According to family legend, Hannon butchered a chicken and roasted it all night long. Rather than trying to figure out how to make her famous dumplings, Hannon did without them. Instead, he gathered his favorite things from the family garden and threw them into the pot: peas, beans, potatoes. The year of this first batch - 1893! Thirteen entire years before the Rentmeester story.
Maybe we can agree Alex Hannon popularized this Belgian stew in Green Bay, but thanks to Andrew Rentmeester, we have the fun name for it. If you want to enter your family into the proverbial Booyah boxing ring, bring it on! And if you can top these stories, feel free to quote the late, great Stuart Scott as you lay claim to your own Booyah story - “BOOYAH!”
Rentmeester Booyah Recipe
(As printed at whooknew.com)
Makes: 20 Gallons
- Add 10 gallons of water into Booyah kettle.
- Light a fire under kettle. Wait for water to boil.
- Add 30 lbs of chicken (5 or 6 whole chickens).
- Add 5 lbs of beef cut up.
- Add ox tail or soup bone.
- Add 2 heads of cabbage cut up.
- Add 6 lbs of yellow onions cut up.
- Add 1 small package of split peas.
- Add 2 16-oz cans of northern beans.
- Add 1 large can of tomato juice.
- Boil and simmer for 2 hours until chicken is tender.
- Take chicken, beef, ox tail out and de-bone.
- Add 10 lbs carrots cut up.
- Add 6 bunches of celery cut up.
- Simmer 45 minutes until carrots are tender.
- Add 30-35 lbs of potatoes cut up.
- Add de-boned chicken and meat back into kettle.
- Simmer until potatoes are done.
- Add 4 16-ox cans of peas.
- Add 1 cup salt and 4 TBL black pepper.
- Add lemon juice to taste.
Invite your family and friends over for a delicious meal with plenty of folklore to discuss. Enjoy!