Burgoo is a soup made from chicken, beef, and vegetables, cooked for several hours until the flavors have blended and the ingredients have become a thick stew. Arenzville burgoo is cooked in iron kettles over a wood-burning fire, which imparts a special smoky flavor to the soup.
The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that burgoo was originally a thin gruel or porridge made by sailors in the 17th century. The name may have come from "bulghur," a form of cracked wheat, or "ragout," a French word for a well-seasoned stew. There are many different recipes for burgoo in other parts of the country, but Arenzville burgoo is unlike any other soup you will ever taste. Early versions of the soup were made with wild game such as venison or squirrel, but current state health laws prevent selling soup made from game, so only chicken and beef are used. Today's Arenzville burgoo is made from a secret recipe, handed down over the generations, and the only place you can get this brand of the soup is in Arenzville, Illinois, during the late summer festival.
(Tip: In Arenzville, we pronounce it "BURR-goo" or "burr-GOO," but not "BEAR-goo" or "BEAR-goh.")
In 2012, the Arenzville Burgoo will be be held Friday, September 7th & Saturday, September 8th. Other Illinois towns who host burgoo festivals include Franklin (July 4th), Meredodia (usually early July at the River Fest), and Chandlerville (late August), Alsey, Bluffs, Glasgow (Saturday of Labor Day weekend), Gillespie, Roodhouse (fall), Winchester, Woodson, and Utica (October). It is best to make contact with a local spokesperson before making plans to attend. Many of these festivals are hosted by small organizations who are dependent on volunteers, and their plans can change from year to year.
A similar soup-making tradition occurs in southeastern Illinois, though the result is called chowder (this is nothing like New England-style clam chowder!) Communities in Edwards and Jasper Counties in Illinois regularly host chowder festivals. Click here for a link to the schedule for the 2011 events.