Monday, February 6, 2012

February 1987 - South St Paul Centennial & Booya!

Come March, one hundred twenty five years ago, the City of South Saint Paul, Minnesota was incorporated.  Twenty five years ago, the Centennial Commission held monthly events to commemorate this great event and also published a calendar with events that happened in town for the past 100 years.

The Centennial Special Event for February was to be a "Winterfest" at a local school with a two skating rinks and a great hill for sliding.  The Commission had also arranged for a horse-drawn sleigh for rides through the snow.  But back then, like this year too, the weather will not cooperate. (Not that I'm complaining!)  It has been too warm and there is no snow on the ground.  Not back then and not now.

But there was other notables for the month. 

1853  February 4 - Kaposia Post Office opens at the mission in Little Crow's village.

1911 February 27 - First Boy Scout Troop formed in SSP

But the one entry that caught my eye was 75 years ago:

1937 February 3 - Hook-Em Cows serve Booya for 10,000 at the Winter Carnival!

My grandmother told me that this bucket was one used by the "Hook-Em-Cows" when they served booya years ago.  And although I cannot verify it against other mementos, I like to think that it is true.

The St. Paul Winter Carnival just concluded this weekend and although there is no "Hook-Em-Cows" any more and they do not serve booya at the Winter Carnival, it does bring back a lot of memories of what was then and family stories.  But to understand is to know who are the "Hook-Em-Cows" and what is booya.

Booya, the soup/stew concoction, is a mainstay to the city of South St Paul.   The first Saturday of October for more than twenty-five years has been the date for the World Championship Booya Cook-Off and "On the Road Again" celebration.  Teams from around the Twin Cities participate in the contest with the winner chosen by a group of local judges. 

Back in 1989, the SSP Jaycees made their first batch to enter into the contest.  We told everyone that it was made from "Babe, the Blue Ox" of Paul Bunyan fame and we had the horns to prove it.  One newspaper article read that the booya called for 10 tons of Blue Ox tails, 14 semis of frozen rutabagas, five trailer loads of ice-blue onions, seven carloads of snow-capped mountain potatoes, and rock salt to taste. (Well, actually they were the horns from the city's centennial float and were no longer being used).

We had a large banner proclaiming "Babe's Blue Ox Booya" and made up buttons to wear so that people would know what it was they were eating.

And although we did not win the contest, we came in second and was determined to try again the next year.

The event organizer, Walt Books, had repeatedly told me that no woman has ever won and never will.  He said they didn't know how to cook booya properly and that was all it took.  The following year, we again entered and again did not win.  But the next year, in 1991, took home the top prize and trophy!  I no longer enter the contest but did judge for many years. 

But there is a comeback to this story.  My daughter, son-in-law and other extended family members are now members of the SSP Jaycees and they entered the now-famous booya cook-off a few years back.  Using the same recipe, they too walked off with the first place trophy, much to the chagrin of the other entrants.  They've entered every year since, tweaking the recipe, placing one year, taking home the top prize the following. 

But what is booya? 

Get yourself a pot, a really big pot.  Like an 80 gallon pot!  And the day before you plan on serving you gather up all the friends you can to cut vegetables, stew meat and keep the fires burning.  My version consists of chicken (like 50 lbs) and the same for oxtail.  No good booya is ever made without oxtail!  And any other meat that you would have on hand, more beef or pork or turkey.  Some even use turtle or venison.  Some just use what's in the freezer and no longer distinguishable.  Cook it, braise it, stew it, do what ever is necessary to get it to fall off the bone.

Cooking meat in this quantity is best done overnight.  But in Minnesota in October, that means jackets, hats, mittens, blankets and a huge bonfire just to keep warm.  In the morning you add in vegetables and cook them for another 5-6 hours.  Booya is not a pretty soup.  It's a mushy, stringy, but can't beat the flavor, warm the belly kind of soup.  Speaking of flavor.  That's a secret.  No one tells another what seasoning one puts into the booya. 

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the "Hook-Em Cows"!

This October, 2012 will be the 30th Anniversary of the "World Championship Booya Cook-Off".  I'll be there.  Will you?

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