LENOX -- With $1,000 in seed money from the town to help cover startup costs, organizers of the first Lenox Rhubarb Festival promise a cornucopia of treats for folks unfamiliar with the plant used as a fruit or vegetable, or who may have only enjoyed strawberry rhubarb pie.
Lenox native Suzanne Pelton, founder of the feast in collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce, promises her own creation -- rhubarb chili -- as well as rhubarb bread, rhubarb jam and marmalade, rhubarb ice cream, fresh rhubarb and a recipe cookbook, all on display for sampling and for sale.
The event is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the town library's Roche Reading Park. In addition to sales of all things rhubarb, activities include a pie contest, a contest for the longest leaf and biggest leaf, and a competition for the best rhubarb chili. Children's games and races also will be offered.
At least a dozen inns, restaurants and other local businesses are participating in displays and sales as well as in contests for best rhubarb pie and chili. Several establishments have added rhubarb specialties to their weekend menus.
Pelton, an avid cultivator of rhubarb plants, said she conceived the festival as the spring bookend to the Lenox Apple Squeeze, a 34-year, late-September tradition.
"Think of it as a Memorial Day weekend backyard barbecue for the town," said Pelton amid final preparations for what she intends as an annual attraction.
At the recent Select Board meeting that granted enthusiastic approval for the startup funding and the use of the park, Pelton emphasized that much of the $1,000 will be held in reserve for next year so the festival can become self-supporting. She's relying on her own and others' volunteer efforts, working with Ralph Petillo, executive director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce.
Petillo submitted the detailed application outlining goals and expenses for a positive recommendation by the Events Committee, which pre-screens events seeking town funding for Select Board consideration.
The $1,000 grant will come out of this year's remaining $15,000 to $20,000 of economic development funds. Voters at Town Meeting approved $55,000 to support town events in fiscal 2014, which begins July 1 of this year.
Select Board Chairman David Roche noted that the festival fits in with the Event Committee's mission aimed at increasing the town's visibility through a combination of homegrown and outside attractions such as the upcoming fourth annual Memorial Day Weekend Marathon and the second annual Berkshire Cycling Classic set for June 9.
"We do things for the tourists," said Roche. "It's nice to do things for the residents, too. They can have a lot of fun at something like this."
"This is for the town's families and children, a spring kind of Apple Squeeze," Pelton said. "We're starting small this year."
Of course, other Berkshire residents and visitors are welcome to attend.
Pelton, noting that rhubarb originated in China thousands of years ago and entered Massachusetts in 1820, is now found in many backyards. It can be harvested from May until October's first frost.
"It's good for you," Pelton said, touting the plant's 17 vitamins and minerals.
"We're doing this for the town and we hope to make it bigger," she said. "People will find out you can do a lot with rhubarb."
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If you go
What: Lenox Rhubarb Festival
When: Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Lenox Library's Roche Reading Park.
Attractions: Display, tastings and sales of rhubarb pies, cakes, ice crew, chili, jam, marmalade, bread, cookbooks. Also, contests, games, races.
Participants: Gateways Inn & Restaurant, Cranwell Resort (Wyndhurst Restaurant, Sloane's Tavern), Olde Heritage Tavern, Bistro Zinc, Frankie's Ristorante, Patisserie Lenox, Chocolate Springs, Scoop, Kemble Inn, Apple Tree Inn, Ventfort Hall, Scott Harrington Landscape Services