Appetites: Tradition and community make bouja a Midwest staple

Every fall, Avon Hills Folk School hosts a community bouja party with a recipe tweaked to represent the growing diversity of the Stearns County area.

a 55-gallon pot filled with orange soup
The bouja finishes off in this 55-gallon pot handed down to the folk school from the Holy Spirit Church in St. Cloud, Minn. It originally belonged to the St. Cloud Reformatory.
Courtesy of Avon Hills Folk School

On Saturday, the team behind the Avon Hills Folk School outside Avon, Minn., will get up early to start preparing their bouja recipe. The meat will be cooked — chicken, beef and lamb — and the vegetables will be chopped — potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and green beans — and it will all be combined in a 55-gallon kettle to cook for hours outside before guests arrive for the party.

The community bouja party happens every October on the second Saturday of the month. It gives visitors to the folk school the perfect opportunity to soak in the fall foliage while enjoying a perfect fall meal — a hot bowl of bouja soup.

a folk school building under fall foliage
The bouja party at the Avon Hills Folk School draws in people from around the region.
Courtesy of Avon Hills Folk School

Chris Schellinger is one of the organizers and chefs behind the event. He joined MPR News host Tom Crann on Appetites to talk about the soup and how the organization has adapted the recipe to be more inclusive to the growing diversity in Stearns County.

“Originally, [the recipe] included chicken, beef and pork, and what we have done is we swapped out the pork with lamb to be accessible for some of our new Muslim neighbors,” he said. “And as it turns out, it's made it much better. We didn't expect that.”

Schellinger said the soup and all its ingredients are very representative of the diverse group of people who come to the party — people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures coming together for a day of conversation and community-building.

small property in the fall woods
Guests are encouraged to hike through the woods to get the best views of the fall foilage.
Courtesy of Avon Hills Folk School

“They all kind of blend together for the day,” he said. “And it's a lot of fun!”

Anyone planning to attend the Avon Hills Folk School annual community bouja party is asked to bring a dessert to share. The school provides soup, bread, apples and beverages. The desserts are all situated on a 32-foot dessert table that has grown to be quite popular over the years.

“It does have a bit of a backyard community potluck feel to it,” he said. “And I know that a lot of the kids are coming for the dessert, not necessarily the bouja.”

The event runs from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9 at the Avon Hills Folk School located 25 minutes west of St. Cloud off Interstate 94.

For directions and more information, visit the folk school’s website.

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