Dining in my neck of the woods can be an adventure. Sure, there are extraordinary restaurants and delightful cafés scattered throughout back roads and rural villages of upstate New York and Vermont, but once the leaves fall off the trees and a brisk chill fills the air, an annual tradition draws people from miles around: The Annual Game Supper.
Throughout the region, local hunters offer their bounty as a fundraiser for their communities in the form of a game dinner, with the proceeds generally benefiting the local fire department.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have mixed feelings about hunting. I tried being a vegetarian many years ago, but eventually returned to my carniverous ways. I never ate venison until a few years ago after having met hunters in the area who are respectful in the art of the hunt and who would rather fill their freezer with wild game instead of store-bought meat from factory-farmed animals.
I had heard good things about the dinner in Rupert, so I gathered my friends, Paul and Leah, along with a nice bottle of Merlot (BYOB is accepted) and together we drove into Vermont to check it out. “I wonder if they’ll have roadkill,” Paul mused. I hoped he was kidding. “Seriously,” he continued, ” if an animal’s been hit, as long as the body’s still warm, it’s generally still good eatin’. But if rigor mortis has set in, then you’d best leave it alone.”
If our civilized world ever crumbles and we all have to fend for ourselves in order to survive, I’m following Paul.
Although dinner was scheduled to begin at 5:00pm, we arrived by 4:30 to avoid standing in line – and the place was already packed and filled with lively conversation!
Well-dressed boomers were sampling the wine and cheese they had brought. Farmers and hunters swapped stories. Tatooed college students talked among themselves at the entrance. Entire families with every generation from tiny babies right up to great-grandparents were getting caught up on the latest news as beer bottles lined up alongside baby bottles.
And then there were the hats! Apparently just for the fun of it!
We found a place to sit and enjoy our wine and I struck up a conversation with a young father sitting behind me. “I’ve been coming to the Rupert Game Supper since 1984,” he said. “I first came with my parents, then I got married and brought my wife, Now we have kids and we bring them every year. And when they get married, they’ll bring their kids and their children’s kids. It’s a tradition.”
“Where does all the meat come from?” I asked.
“Area hunters donate it to help the fire department. “
Then he added, “Some of it comes from roadkill.”
I searched his face to see if he was joking, but he looked quite serious. I thought of what Paul told me during our drive over and started wondering what would be on the menu.
Maybe they’re pulling my leg……
At 5:00 sharp, a woman wearing moose antlers picked up the microphone…….
Her name is Kelli Lewis and she’s been volunteering with the supper for 13 years. When I talked to her the day before the event, she had been up all night preparing the Moose Balls……
Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for. We arrived at the buffet line and served a sample from each chafing dish.
Here’s what was on the menu:
Orange Marmalade Glazed Pheasant
Sweet & Hour Moose Meatballs
Venison Sausage with Peppers and Onions
Game Bird Jambalaya
There was also turkey and roast beef for those who weren’t fond of game, as well as fresh mashed potatoes, squash, coleslaw and, of course, homemade pies.
Talk about protein overload! But I’ll tell you, every single dish was divine. You could tell they had been cooked with great care, some using recipes handed down from their grandparents.
After a meal like this, I’ll feel like eating nothing but veggies the rest of the week!
Across the table, an older man with a weathered face and flannel shirt was clearly enjoying the meal. “I come every year,” he said. “But I’m disappointed they didn’t have raccoon this year. Raccoon is excellent.”
And that launched a conversation with Paul’s wife, Leah, on the best way to cook raccoon. “Skin it, remove all the fat, then make a wet stuffing, pile the stuffing on top of the raccoon meat and bake it in the oven.” If anyone knows how to cook raccoon, it would be Leah. She’s one of the best cooks I know and I’m sure she could make one heck of a roast out of this oversized rodent.
We ate until we could eat no more, then ambled out to the car for the ride home. Traveling through the darkened countryside, with the moon and stars shining brightly overhead, I thought how tonight especially, I didn’t miss city living so much after all.
The annual Rupert Game Supper is open to the general public and generally takes place the third Saturday in November in the Firehouse Hall, located on just off Route 153 in Rupert, Vermont.