Its Thanksgiving week, time to share in the harvest before winter finally sets in. And these days, the bounty usually comes by way of the supermarket. But we're about to visit a church supper in northern New England where the fare comes right off the land.

Charlotte Albright, of Vermont Public Radio, went to that state's biggest annual wild game supper.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: For almost 60 years, adventuresome eaters from all over New England have lined up outside the white-steepled United Church of Christ, on Main Street in Bradford, Vt., a close-knit hamlet along the Connecticut River.


ALBRIGHT: The doors open not a minute before 2. Dave McLam is the grandson of one of the original organizers, and the current co-chair.

DAVE MCLAM: I'm a worker, just like everybody else.

ALBRIGHT: This year, he found and butchered enough game to feed a sold-out crowd of 800 people at $25 per person, which in turn feeds church coffers. McLam is a state transportation worker, so he sometimes scores fresh roadkill. But mostly, hunters call him when they've bagged more than they can eat.

MCLAM: Or I'll make those calls to people saying, well, if you hear of somebody with a bear, we need some bear meat for the game supper. Beavers - I try to recruit the trappers to acquire beavers for us.

ALBRIGHT: McLam fills in the menu as needed, from game farms. One of those delicacies sizzles on an outdoor grill under the experienced spatula of Gary Tomlinson.

GARY TOMLINSON: I do the boar detail - the smoked boar, roast boar and boar sausage. This must be my 43rd year.

ALBRIGHT: When the game and the veggie side dishes are ready, Dave McLam gives the go-ahead.

MCLAM: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to start with numbers 1 through 75.

ALBRIGHT: Behind a long table of chafing dishes, smiling servers dish out chunks of wild game speared with color-coded toothpicks.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Here's your venison jerky, something new, and the game stuffing. And here's your beaver and water buffalo.

ALBRIGHT: Al Brochu, from New Hampshire, loads up his plate and heads for his assigned table. He matches the menu card to the rainbow of toothpicks sticking out of his supper.

AL BROCHU: Beaver, green; yellow, bear; moose, beaver - you can have beaver.

ALBRIGHT: But he plans to polish off everything else. He's been making this 75-mile lunch run for over 20 years.

As she meets and greets diners, Pastor Karen Lipinczyk thinks she knows why so many locals and tourists mark their calendars for this supper way in advance.

KAREN LIPINCZYK: Church folk and non-church folk working together, to pull off this "Welcome to Bradford!" kind of event. It's just really, a lovely thing.

ALBRIGHT: A lot of her parishioners are hunters. And for them, the pastor says, there's nothing quite like roast rabbit and pheasant stew to kick off the holiday season.

For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright in eastern Vermont.



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