DANVILLE, Vt. - Toby Balivet drives a gray
Inside the hall, Balivet watches over eight stock pots, big as tree stumps, boiling with moose and bear and beaver meat, each in its own pot. Once the meat is cooked, it's pulled from the bone and squeezed into 10-gallon zipper bags. The refrigerator is crowded with rabbit and venison and plastic buckets full of meat stock. More will be added throughout the day.
It's crunch time in Danville. Started in 1921, the Danville Methodist Game Supper, the oldest of its kind in Vermont, is just two days away. The 87-year-old tradition is still going strong, and as always, the men are running the event. Women help, too, but they usually come once the meat pies are assembled. The supper takes place in three seatings on the first Thursday of deer rifle season in Vermont, Nov. 10-25 this year, and it's always held in the United Methodist Church. Along with a slew of game pies - each cooked in its own gravy and topped with a flaky crust - heaps of squash, potatoes, green beans, and carrots are served, with dessert pies to finish. Money from ticket sales (adults, $12; children, $8) funds scholarships for children to go to wildlife conservation camps and church camps.
The 59-year-old Balivet, an attorney and the Caledonia district probate judge, has helped with the supper for almost 30 years. Elbows high, he reaches a strainer and long fork into a pot bubbling with bear and twists the fork into the dark meat to see if it falls from the bone. "Bear's gonna be easy," he calls to the three guys working in the other room.
Wearing rubber gloves, 63-year-old Ken Linsley, a retired engineer, and 59-year-old Buddy Mundinger, retired from the military, work at separating deer meat from gristle and bone. Nearby, 66-year-old Lloyd Morse, a former business owner, cuts through several pecks of buttercup squash. "Squash is a favorite," he says.
By the end of the day, the men will be well on their way to preparing 49 meat pies: two beaver, four rabbit, 12 moose, 12 bear, 14 venison, and five chicken (for the less adventurous). The meat comes from a variety of places. An auctioneer usually brings raccoons, but not this year: "His new dog won't tree coons yet," Balivet explains, "so, until the dog is trained, we can't acquire coons." The moose comes from the state of Vermont; deer, from a probate judge; beaver, from the husband of a local town clerk; rabbit, from a nearby rabbit farm; and bear, from a local laundromat owner.
The meat pies are assembled and cooked at the Knights hall and then driven half a mile to the church. Steve Cobb and Claudia Balivet step in to help, and the number of volunteers grows to close to 20.
In the corner of the dining room a counter fills with dessert pies - chocolate cream, apple, coconut macaroon, pecan, maple cream, and sour cherry, 46 in all. An hour before the first crowd spills in, the kitchen is a flurry. Hollis Prior and Fred Orr take on the job of mashing potatoes in a mixer housed in a small room with a fuel oil tank, a furnace, and a hot water heater. Painted 1960s olive green, and the size of an outboard motor, the mixer easily whips 30 pounds of spuds into a smooth blur of white.
At 5 p.m., the dining room fills with locals and out-of-town regulars. Ken Davis of Davis Contracting Services, who has been attending for close to 15 years, always brings a group of family and employees. Moose and venison are Davis's favorites. The supper goes strong until about 8:30 p.m.; 174 people are served meals.
"The most popular meat this year was bear," Balivet says. "The beaver is always the least popular," he adds, "although, if we had had coon, it might have been that."