LENOX -- Young Ben Bergman was one of several hundred people who braved the rain and ignored the "weird" stigma associated with rhubarb and attended the first Lenox Rhubarb Festival.

The all-day rain didn't dampen the lively mood, but it did move the celebration from the Lenox Library's Roche Reading Park to a back room inside the library.

"I tasted the rhubarb soda and it was sweet and fruity and so was the pie," said the 12-year-old Great Barrington resident who attended with his grandparents.

Before coming out, Bergman recalled thinking, "it was weird because I think of rhubarb as sour and bitter."

Lenox resident Suzanne Pelton co-organized the festival, in collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce, and challenged local cooks to creatively incorporate rhubarb -- a favorite vegetable of hers -- in their cooking. The event was organized to bring together people with a passion for rhubarb, which can be grown in the backyard.

Pelton estimated the turnout at 300 and she said the event turned a profit, although she didn't have exact figures. She said the event will return next year.

"That just means that people like rhubarb, people want to know more about rhubarb," Pelton said. She said 35 rhubarb plants were bought at the event. "That's 35 more people who have rhubarb in their backyard. That's a wonderful thing."

Six local restaurants competed in a contest on who could cook the best rhubarb chili. Rhubarb was also made into quiche, granola, soda, juice and bread loaf.

Cornell Inn Chief and Manager Lance Fyfe said he devised a chili recipe to emphasize the rhubarb's tart flavor.


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His recipe included duck because, "It sounds crazy as is, so why not?"

Luis Zambrano, of the Village Inn, won the competition with a hearty chili that included ground beef and was topped with some ground rhubarb.

The Cornell Inn finished second with the Gateway Inn was third.

Jake Styczynski and Amy Schultz, up from Manhattan, stopped by during their visit to the Berkshires.

"They've all been good, but the difference is how much rhubarb you can taste," said Schultz, who said the event "sounded fun."

Pelton expressed pride and satisfaction with the turnout.

"This is our first year and we hadn't done this before so we were happy to start slowly," Pelton said. "But people were here before 10 waiting to get in. Everyone came for pie, but I said we are a festival not about pie, but everything else you can do with rhubarb."