Pity the lowly rhubarb. As a fruit (or whatever it is) we don’t take it very seriously. I can image it being shunned even by other edible plants. Even zuchini. (I would have Spellchecked zuchini, but it’s only zuchini.)
But one day a year when the good folks at University Lutheran Church of Grand Forks put rhubarb on a platform, metaphorically speaking. University Lutheran Church, not to be (but often is) confused with United Lutheran Church of Grand Forks, even by me.
Each June for the past twenty years, United Lutheran–I mean–University Lutheran has hosted a Rhubarb Festival. It is so popular people start queing up as they say (in other places) an hour before the bake sale portion of the festival begins.
At least one big, burly parishioner is designated as security guy/bouncer to keep order. I am not making this up.
Yesterday I arrived about a half hour early for my duties as rhubarb pie contest judge. Accidentally, I wandering into the festival’s bake sale area and was asked to leave. Again, I am not making this up. A moment later the perhaps over-enthusiastic church lady said, “Oh, it’s you! I guess you can stay.” Or words to that affect.
Why all the fuss? The anwer lies below.
This year’s festival bake sale included one hundred twenty-seven jars of rhubarb jam, by actual count, apparently. Plus, tons of pies and other assorted goodies including something that looked a little like, but I’m sure were not, rhubarb tacos. (I don’t pretend to be Marilyn Hagerty.)
As if to soften the blow of nearly being tossed out of the bake sale pre-show, someone handed me one of the rhubarb shakes sold each year at the fest. It was killer! I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. The recipe, of course, is a University Lutheran secret. I can only imagine what would happen to the person whose wrong hands it fell into.
In addition to the rhubarb bake goods, they also sell cookbooks, quilts, aprons and much more. For a dollar, I bought a cute, little mint plant, the leaves of which will flavor and garnish my Mint Juleps later in the summer.
My reason for being at the festival was not rattle security, but rather to help judge the rhubarb pie-baking contest. My co-judges were Ann Bailey who I would guess could probably whip up a pretty mean rhubarb pie herself and Brenda Gjelsness who I know could. She oversees the sixteen homemakers clubs in Grand Forks County.
The festival’s main event, I guess, is the salad luncheon. Salad so that diners can leave room for dessert. Rhubarb dessert. Duh.
The tables’ centerpieces are decorated with fresh flowers accented with rhubarb leaves. Also fresh.
The whole Rhubarb Festival is handled with just the right touch of fun. As you might imagine, I left feeling emotionally exhausted. But happy.