Benefit Saturday in Central Vermont

Saturday is normally a day of community and church suppers in towns throughout Vermont and much of small town New England. This has been especially true this month, as a number of communities held benefits to assist victims of Hurricane Irene.

We took advantage of three of last weekend’s dozens of opportunities to have authentic New England experiences, meet locals and simultaneously support worthwhile causes. We:

  • Ate lunch at Brownsville’s Community Pig Roast and Potluck lunch in support of the town’s hurricane relief fund, at which a roasted pig was complemented by cider and a number of donated salads and desserts;
  • Spent the afternoon at the Plymouth Recovery Benefit Concert where five local folk groups performed at two venues at Plymouth Notch’s Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. Although we toured the park a number of years ago, we took the opportunity for a return visit, viewing a short film on Coolidge’s life, visiting the buildings from his childhood and learning about life in rural Vermont during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and
  • Finished the day with at a Turkey Church Supper at Hartland’s First Universalist Church. The all-you-can-eat family style-dinner is a 100-year tradition that typically attracts about 300 people. It comes with all the fixings and choices of about ten types of homemade pies. While there is almost always a line for entry, you can keep yourself entertained by perusing the dozens of donated items—ranging from a handcrafted coat hooks and hand-knit scarves and an antique book of Civil War Photos—available at a silent auction.

Benefit 1 - Coolidge ChurchBenefit 2- Coolidge Barn

Although neither the food nor the music was particularly memorable, that isn’t the point. We appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the relief efforts, felt honored to participate and be accepted in these local traditions and met some really interesting people, including a few Ivy League professors who retired to beautiful central Vermont.

Our only disappointment was that we weren’t able to partake in more of the evening’s suppers. I was especially intrigued by Bethel’s Chicken Pot Pie Church Supper. This, we learned, would have entailed a two hour trek since the direct road to Bethel has not yet reopened.

We also missed the weeks for two of Vermont’s biggest and most famous Church Suppers:

  • Hartland’s Brick Church’s famous Roast Beef Suppers , which attract up to 400 people and (along with the First Universalist’s Turkey Supper) was frequented and loved by the reclusive author J.D. Salinger (Catcher In the Rye), who lived in the nearby New Hampshire artist town of Cornish. (Cornish, by the way, is also the site of the studio, home and garden tour of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (Diana, Charles Gould Shaw and many other Beaux-Arts-style sculptures); and
  • Bradford Congregational Church’s Annual Wild Game Supper, which we had done several years ago, is an event that essayist Calvin Trillin has called "the Super Bowl of church suppers." It serves an extraordinarily unusual, and for some, challenging array of game dishes (think bear, raccoon, moose, emu, rabbit and many others) to up to 900 people.

Although we have already been to one of Game Suppers, we would absolutely like to do it again. We are still waiting to our first opportunity to try the Roast Beef Supper. And, while it would not have been high on our list, one of our turkey supper tablemates strongly recommended the Vernon Union’ Church’s Baked Bean Supper, which she says, sometimes offers more than 20 types of baked beans and numerous accompanying dishes.

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