Versatile vegetable star of show at Lenox Rhubarb Festival
LENOX — With a well-established and growing festival, the town could be well-poised to preempt the wave of the rhubarb revolution, if such an event occurs.
There's lots of reasons it might.
An extremely sturdy plant, the buckwheat relative vegetable grows like weeds, is therefore cheap, contains loads of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and possesses an idiosyncratic, tart flavor ideal for both savory and sweet cooking. It's an equal hit among gray-hairs, hipsters and local food enthusiasts.
On Saturday, the town hosted its third Rhubarb Festival, the biggest in terms of its hundreds-strong turnout and 17 diverse vendors. The event took over the Library park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"I can remember hacking away at the rhubarb patches in my yard because they just wouldn't die," Olga Weiss of Lenox joked. "Now here I am wanting to seed new crops."
Vendors from Massachusetts and New York brought their "A" game, offering attendees everything from rhubarb chili, to rhubarb juices and more traditional rhubarb pies, muffins, jams and jellies — even a delicate rhubarb macaron.
"I had no idea so many people were crazy about rhubarb, and that there were so many rhubarb purists," Ashley Summers, owner of Berkshire Bakes specialty order business, said. "Like, they want nothing else cutting their rhubarb: No strawberry, no raspberry, nothing, just straight-up rhubarb."
Plain-old rhubarb pies were the first item Summers sold out of. She said some people complained that the festival should go on for another day.
With temperatures hitting 90 degrees, Lenox ice cream shop The Scoop made a killing on a rhubarb-strawberry ice cream blend and a ginger-rhubarb sorbet, emptying several buckets.
"Refreshing: That's what everyone was saying," said Penny Schwartz, store employee.
Rhubarb crops start coming up in early May, allowing some vegetable growers to get an early start on the season.
Native to China, rhubarb first crossed continents to the U.S. in the 1820s, to Massachusetts and Maine, where people used it for medicinal purposes: as both a diuretic and laxative.
"Here it's just gotten stuck in pies," festival founder and Lenox native Suzanne Pelton said. "It has this whole other life as a vegetable — ideal for chili or throwing in any savory cooking — and that hasn't been fully explored."
The sky is the limit regarding Pelton's ambition for the festival.
"At this moment, there's not a huge demand for rhubarb, but a festival like this could help create it," she said. "Rhubarb is such an underappreciated vegetable. Why wouldn't Berkshire County say, 'Woah, let's become rhubarb capital of the Northeast.' "
She added, "My goal is to have all the restaurants and inns seeking rhubarb, and for this just to become rhubarb town at this time of year."
The town provided funds for the festival's inaugural outing, but it has since become self-supporting. For more information, visit lenoxrhubarbfestival.com.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.