RUPERT -- High spirits and good company prove the primary draw at the annual Rupert game supper, where hundreds of diners piled their plates high this weekend with an assortment of local hunters' bounty. The menu at this year's fire department benefit included moose, bear, venison, beaver, "and any other wild game that comes along."
"The bear's pretty good. The beaver is for the adventurous, but it's pretty good," said John Lund of Brattleboro, with a group of family and friends celebrating a birthday. "The moose is always good," he emphasized.
Across the table, Janis Hall said the game supper was new to her but "it kind of makes sense."
"I mean, if you get a bear or a moose -- that's a lot of meat. So why not get together?"
Repeat participants knew to arrive early to socialize and grab a seat, and parked cars lined both shoulders of Route 153 surrounding the firehouse, where inside there was a standing wait by the time the food began to be served, cafeteria-style.
Kelli Lewis, wife of Rupert Fire Chief George Lewis, said organizers expected to feed about 350 over the course of the evening. Nearby Pawlet and Tinmouth also hold similar longstanding suppers, each benefiting the respective community's fire department. "The community supplies all of the desserts and the hunters supply all of the meats, so it's a real big community event," said Lewis, the chief organizer of the Rupert supper for 15 years.
Dependent on what's been bagged, the menu can vary year to year "whether or not somebody gets a moose, somebody gets a bear." This year, diners had options. Al Wilson of Salem, N.Y., donated the bear, while Lewis' sister got the elk on a recent hunt -- resulting in elk pot pie, a new dish.
Most of the recipes stay the same and "it's all done in-house," Lewis said, beginning with a work group Friday that starts by preparing the meatballs and marinades.
So what's recommended? "I love the pheasant. The game bird jambalaya and the pheasant," said Lewis. "The bear, not so much ... but the bear gravy this year was awesome," she qualified.
"We're going to have gator next year," quipped Jimmy Joe Lewis, while helping out in the kitchen.
Some dined sporting funny hats, including Kurt Schleck of New Jersey and Andrew Slater of Connecticut, two friends among a group of former classmates from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., who've made the game supper a yearly tradition.
Schleck, whose father owns a house in Pawlet, said he came for the camaraderie, "but it's good food too, and I also want to expose my kids. ... I don't just want them eating hot dogs."
Asked for their favorite dish, "I like the teriyaki moose," said Schleck, and the moose meatballs.
"Yes, the moose meatballs. ... You've got to have them," agreed Slater.
The game supper raises between $2,500 to $3,000 annually, with those funds deposited into a general fund for training and insurance. The fire department also raffled off a rifle during the supper, while Mettawee Community School sixth graders held a 50/50 raffle and bused tables for tips for a class trip to Boston. The Rupert Valley 4-H Club meanwhile had a silent auction.