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St. Paul cousins ready to savor the season’s booya stews

September 29, 2018

Cousins Patricia Mitchell, left, and Jeanette Proehl seen in St. Paul, Minn. on Sept. 18, 2018, are ready to hit the booya circuit. Mitchell, retired CEO of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and Proehl, an accountant and lifelong St. Paul resident, hit the booya trail every fall when churches, firefighters and community groups cook up massive vats of the meat and vegetable stew for fun and fundraising. (Kathy Berdan/Pioneer Press via AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — It’s booya season in St. Paul, and cousins Patricia Mitchell and Jeanette Proehl have their sporks at the ready.

Mitchell, retired CEO of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and Proehl, an accountant and lifelong St. Paul resident, hit the booya trail every fall when churches, firefighters and community groups cook up massive vats of the meat and vegetable stew for fun and fundraising.

“The whole ethos of the booya — I just love it,” Mitchell told the Pioneer Press .

They slurped steaming booya bowls at four locations last year, cooked up by North St. Paul and Roseville firefighters, St. Jerome’s Church and the St. Paul Winter Carnival Vulcans. And they’re not afraid to proclaim their favorite: North St. Paul. Roseville fire department comes in second.

St. Jerome’s is carry-out only, served starting at 6 a.m. until it’s gone. (And it’s already taken place this year on Sept. 16.) The cousins were at the church 10 minutes before 6 last year and there was already a long line, “all these old duffers with their buckets,” Mitchell said.

Her verdict: “Too much tomato.”

Proehl disagrees. “I like tomato.”

Mitchell remembers being baffled by booya signs on street corners and lawns when she started work at the Ordway in 2007. She’d moved to St. Paul from the West Coast and, though she’d worked at the Guthrie right out of college, she admits she knew nothing of this tradition.

“What is this?” she asked Proehl.

“It’s way good,” was the answer.

Proehl was the right person to ask. Her grandmother, Lorraine Cherry, was French-Canadian and made booya (which is thought to come from the French word “bouillon,” Mitchell said). The two have used grandma’s recipe to make their own booya. On the stove — they’re quick to point out — not in a huge outdoor tub stirred with a paddle.

Booya usually has chicken, pork and beef (though the cousins said the Roseville fire department recipe seems beefier than others). Potatoes, corn and peas are standard to most big-bucket booya, Proehl said. Other vegetables seem variable, Mitchell added: carrots, tomatoes, onion, green beans.

“Some booyas retain the integrity of the vegetables and some not at all,” Mitchell said. She and Proehl wondered just how many pounds of corn North St. Paul firefighters go through.

They once sampled booya that had barley, they report with squinched-up noses.

They’ve heard that one of the booya locations has volunteers with oven mitts who will carry your steaming stew container to the car, if it’s too hot to handle.

After making grandma’s recipe, Proehl and Mitchell searched the internet for booya to try a few variations. One called for a peeled lemon added to the pot. They approved.

“It’s good, but not as good as North St. Paul,” Mitchell said.

They plan to return to North St. Paul on Oct. 14, of course. And Roseville firefighters will likely see the cousins in line on Oct. 7. But sorry, Vulcans. They plan to try the booya at St. Bernard’s on Oct. 6 instead of the Vulcan cook-up Sunday. And they hope to add another stop. Maybe going across state lines to sample the booya in Hudson on Oct. 13.

They remember visiting Highland Park in the booya season of 2017.

“How did we rate it?” Proehl asked.

“Well, we didn’t go back, did we?” Mitchell answered.

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Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com

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