TOWER-SOUDAN — Vintage cast iron kettles filled with the meat and vegetable stew called booyah have been tradition for more than a century at the Vermilion Range Old Settlers Reunion every July at Lake Vermilion's McKinley Park. But this year the pots will be empty, and there will be no picnic due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In 105 years this is the first year it's been cancelled," Chuck Tekautz, a Soudan based member of the Breitung Township Board, told the Mesabi Tribune in a recent phone interview.
The booyah feed was started in 1915, before the United States entered into World War I, by the U.S. Steel's Oliver Mining Company as a summer event for its mine workers. Historically, the Vermilion Range Old Settlers group installed a new president on an annual basis, the first being John Anderson of Dodge Center, Minn., at the year of the event’s inception.
Tim Tomsich is another Soudan member of the Breitung board who served as president in 1989 and keeps a running list of the board presidents. His records show that the Tekautz family has a strong interest in the longtime booyah feed.
First, Tekautz became president in 2006, then his wife Nancy Tekautz in 2007, before their daughter Dena Suihkonen in 2015. Their son Stephen Tekautz is currently the second vice president.
Booyah-making has long been a group effort, a family affair. "I'm one of the cogs in the wheel,” Tekautz said. “There's many, many more people." In earlier days membership rules stated that one had to be from the Vermilion Range, which included Tower-Soudan and Ely. "Anybody from the Range can be a member now," Tekautz added. Nowadays the reunion draws people "you haven't seen since last year, people from Denver and Phoenix and Los Angeles, and local people.”
Some younger people have made an effort to get involved, which is good. The eight board members of the Vermilion Range Old Settlers vary in ages ranging from 28 to 78. Dues to belong are only $6 if paid by June 30 and $8 after that date.
The ways of cooking booyah have also changed over the years. Back in the old days "the pork and beef was from somebody's farm," Tekautz said. Nowadays, his cousin Nick acts as the chef who cooks the ingredients that come from Zup's store, owned and operated by the Zupancich family. More recently, the making of about 200 gallons of booyah typically starts on the third Saturday in July, the afternoon before the get-together.
Chuck Tekautz shared the current recipe: 60 pounds of pork, 240 pounds of beef, 320 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of carrots, 10 green peppers, 24 stalks of celery, 50 pounds of onions, 60 pounds of cabbage, V-8 juice, a case each of canned corn, peas and green beans, chicken base, beef base and tomato puree. The stew meat cooks overnight in the broth, the vegetables are added in the morning.