Lenox Rhubarb Festival to feature pancakes, beer and other sweet treats

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LENOX — If you think of rhubarb only as a pie, often combined with strawberries, you're only aware of the tip of what this sweet, savory vegetable has to offer, such as rhubarb beer, candles, even jewelry.

To prove the point made by organizers, the fourth annual Lenox Rhubarb Festival on Saturday will spread its wings beyond the Roche Reading Park, adjacent to the town library on Main Street.

The goal is to create a townwide celebration of the plant that has its passionate advocates. At the top of that list is festival founder Suzanne Pelton, co-organizing the event this year with her son, August Danowski.

"We're growing the festival by expanding it to local businesses," said Danowski, who wants to see "the entire town going rhubarb, drawing people and getting them to visit stores and restaurants."

He pointed out that, in contrast to previous years, there are only three nonlocal vendors in order to emphasize the Lenoxian thrust of the festival.

Participating local restaurants include Bagel & Brew (strawberry rhubarb cream cheese), Bistro Zinc, Brava (rhubarb cocktails all week through Sunday), Chocolate Springs Cafe, Firefly New American Bistro, Gateways Inn, Haven Cafe and Bakery, The Scoop and Shots Cafe.

Retail stores taking part are Joane Cornell Jewelry, Laurie Donovan Designs (decorations and jewelry in rhubarb colors), Lenox Natural Foods, The Lenoxology Store (rhubarb festival-themed T-shirts), Nejaime's Wine Cellars (rhubarb beer) and Yankee Candle (radish and rhubarb candles).

The out-of-town vendors are Sweetish Baker of Great Barrington, where rhubarb pie fanciers will find their coveted dessert; Les Collines of Craryville, N.Y., offering jams and preserves, and Sweet Treats of Medway, purveying jellies and jams.

The festival has become self-supporting, Danowski noted, and plans are underway to turn it into a nonprofit company.

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Pelton, whose enthusiasm knows no bounds, said her goal is to "to encourage Berkshire County people to start up rhubarb businesses" featuring barbecue sauce, tea, juice and other products containing the plant's 17 vitamins and minerals.

Anyone with a sunny garden can grow the vegetable, she pointed out, and for folks with green thumbs, the Barefoot Gardener will be selling the plants at the library's reading park. Likewise, Ventfort Hall will be offering fresh rhubarb, which "adds a nice flavor to savory dishes," Danowski said.

The festival, held rain or shine, begins with a pancake breakfast next to the Church on the Hill's chapel.

Rhubarb pancakes will be served with a choice of rhubarb sauce or maple syrup; skeptics can opt for plain pancakes.

The park's Rhubarb celebration includes sales of pies, cupcakes, cookies, sauces, jams, preserves, juice, soda, ice cream and sorbet, as well as plants, fresh rhubarb and recipe booklets.

The Rhubarb chili contest offers samples from local restaurant chefs and a public vote for the favorite. A tasting spoon will cost $5. As the organizers emphasize, "rhubarb, with its tart and tangy flavor, makes a great addition to chili."

Pelton, a native who grew up enjoying rhubarb from plants in her backyard, created the festival in 2013.

"It just grows in Western Massachusetts," she stated. "You can't kill it unless you mow over it repeatedly. And it waits patiently to be harvested without getting too big or too tough like cucumbers and string beans. It's the perfect homegrown vegetable."

"Most people don't make pies anymore," she said. "They remember loving their grandmother's or mother's strawberry rhubarb pie. As children, they ate stalks of rhubarb dipped in sugar. After the older generation has passed away, they can't find homemade rhubarb pies. The Rhubarb Festival aims to fill that void."

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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