Dan Smith stirred giant pots of rabbit and pheasant gravy at the Bradford Congregational Church on Saturday as his daughter Willow prepared side dishes of chicken and rabbit liver pate.
The father and daughter—along with more than 100 volunteers—ran the kitchen, buffet line, and table service like clockwork at the annual Bradford game supper. For many volunteers, the event is old hat. For the community, the supper is a beloved fall tradition where more than 720 people gather over the course of the day to dine on moose patties, boar sausage, rabbit pie, elk burritos, and local venison.
“There’s just a feeling from everyone here that they’re part of something special,” says Dan, a project manager and vice president of a construction company who has been working as a supper volunteer for 36 years. This year, Dan and his wife Tracey–who has been attending the supper for 46 years–chaired the event and were in charge of planning.
The supper started in 1956 as a small church event to help raise money to repair sidewalks. The event grew in popularity over the years, and soon became more of a community-wide event to help keep it going and manageable from an operational standpoint.
Back the 1970s, for example, hundreds of people would show up for the event while more than a thousand would have to be turned away. Dan says that’s when event organizers decided to set up a reservation system.
“There’s good food, good people, and this is a community you want to be a part of,” Dan says. “This is why Tracey and I have wanted to keep the event going. It’s truly special. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a bit of a throwback to how we always did things in Vermont.”
60 Pounds of Elk at the Bradford Game Supper
Attendees from this year’s supper were from Vermont, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Several groups of 20 or more come to the dinner together each year, and some guests I spoke to having been coming to the supper since the 1970s and 80s.
Most of the meat except pheasant, rabbit, and buffalo came from local hunters, and winter squash served at the event was from local farms. To get a sense of the size is the event, the supper cooked up 100 rabbits, three beavers, 90 pounds of buffalo, seven deer, 40 pheasant, 790 moose patties, 40 pounds of bear, 60 pounds of elk, and 100 pounds of boar.
“Everyone leaves the event with a smile,” Dan says. “For me, I like to think of this as a badge of honor, to say ‘I worked at the game suppa.’”