Festival elevates the status of a spring crop with deep roots

(Emily Thurlow) Craig Bero, chef and owner of Pleasant & Main Cafe in Housatonic, uses is his outdoor, wood-fired stove to stew rhubarb.

LENOX — For many New Englanders, rhubarb is often considered synonymous with springtime.

When the stalky plant reaches the surface and unfurls its substantial leaves by May or June, it’s not only a sign that spring has sprung, it’s also time for pies and jams. But the vegetable — and yes, despite the manner at which its traditionally used for desserts — has the potential to be more than just a sweet side dish. At least that’s what Suzanne Pelton, founder and organizer of the Lenox Rhubarb Festival, hopes.

A native of Lenox, Pelton grew up eating rhubarb from her backyard. One day, she had a hankering for a strawberry rhubarb pie and couldn’t find anything homemade. As previous generations begin to pass away, Pelton found that some of those traditions had died as well.

And because those traditions weren’t being passed down with its previous frequency, in turn, the demand for the crop also waned. As a result, the price for the crop was especially low and many growers took out their fields, said Rich Bonanno, owner of Methuen-based Pleasant Valley Gardens.

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