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by Carol Dunn

OUT WEST — It’s rhubarb season, and I know you’re all pretty excited about that. Rhubarb doesn’t have it any easier than the rest of us trying to survive in this climate. It’s a little too dry, it gets a little too hot, and soil nutrients are a little too scarce. If you have a rhubarb plant in your garden, it’s probably a hundred years old and you are wondering why someone planted it to begin with. Because, face it, most of the plant is POISONOUS.

I got to thinking, who was the first person to try rhubarb? I mean, you look at the plant and it isn’t something that you would think, “Oh wow! That looks delicious!” Most of it is an unusual color of green. Warning sign number one. And then it’s got those pinkish red stalks, and red in nature generally is a clue that the red thing tastes bad (which is why, by the way, birds around here would rather starve than eat adobe bugs).

And with rhubarb, it’s TRUE. Rhubarb tastes yucky. And it’s a little slimy too. And, frankly, aren’t those two of the main things we look for when choosing something to eat? NOT! The leaves are poisonous and so are the roots. So pity the poor committee that was assigned the job of coming up with ways to serve rhubarb. Someone HAD to get poisoned to figure out that the leaves will make you so sick you never even want to HEAR the word rhubarb again. And someone else had to get poisoned to figure out that the roots were ALSO toxic.

The poisoning symptoms, by the way, are a lovely list: weakness, burning in the mouth and throat, death from cardiovascular collapse, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and coma. Here’s the kicker. They have one guy in one corner heaving and another guy in another corner with convulsions, and THEN someone on the testing committee decides, “Oh what the heck Herman, how about you try the stalks and see what they do to you.” And apparently Herman says, “Okay.” Because eating the stalks got the green light.

Now some people act like they like rhubarb, but you don’t see many recipes for straight rhubarb – no rhubarb chip cookies or ham beans with rhubarb. It’s usually strawberry & rhubarb, or blueberry & rhubarb, or panther-puke & rhubarb – anything to cover up the taste.

Well, we cut our rhubarb last week. It was kind of thin and pathetic. Why did I even bother? Because, when I was growing up, even though we weren’t starving, my Mom made rhubarb sauce every spring. It was disgusting. But it’s a family tradition.