Bennington celebrates 7th annual Rhubarb Festival

  • Lori Pilus and Charlie Farmer of Francestown pick up some fresh-cut rhubarb at the rhubarb store booth. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Jeff Thibault of Bennington shows off his barbeque chicken, made with a rhubarb brine and sauce.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Residents buy rhubarb products at the 7th annual Rhubarb Festival at Sawyer Memorial Field in Bennington on Saturday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Sheila and Karmen Holloway try some rhubarb lemonade.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Molly Eppig presents David McKenzie of Bennington with the third place ribbon for the rhubarb pie he submitted to the amateur baking contest.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Residents buy rhubarb products at the 7th annual Rhubarb Festival at Sawyer Memorial Field in Bennington on Saturday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Kortlynn Eaves, 3, of Dublin, with stalks of rhubarb at the rhubarb store.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Cecelia Wolfe of Rindge snuggles up to a bunny at the petting zoo. Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  • A young reader sorts through the books for sale at the Bennington Library tent. Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  • Festival volunteer Melissa Serles welcomed visitors along with the festival mascot "Ruby". Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  •  Bennington town officials David Hartwick, David Beck and Mark Mackesy get their next pie to judge from Molly Eppig at the rhubarb pie baking contest.  Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  • Pies waiting to be judged at the rhubarb pie baking contest. Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  • Parker Mason, the winner of the men's hollerin' contest at the Bennington Rhubarb Festival, demonstrates his technique. PHOTO BY MIKEMUNHALLPHOTOS.COM

  • Carter Smullen pops this neck veins as he puts his all into the hollerin' contest "I want my rhubarb!" Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

  • Bradley and Emmitt Allen try their hand at Rhubarb Pie Hole. Courtesy photos by Mike Munhall—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/3/2019 9:03:32 PM

The seventh annual Bennington Rhubarb Festival sprawled across Sawyer Memorial Field Saturday with more vendors than before, live music, children’s games and of course, rhubarb.

“It started as a bake sale at the library and it’s grown from there,” said Janice McKenzie, who was one of the original organizers of the festival. “It’s grown from selling some pastries into this.”

Even the food vendors added some rhubarb to what they had to offer Saturday. Papa’s Rollin BBQ, run by Jeff Thibault of Bennington, served up chicken and pulled pork with rhubarb sauces and glazes, and a rhubarb cornbread muffin for dessert. The muffins are from a recipe he pulled from the internet, he said, but many of the sauces are his barbecue recipes with rhubarb instead of vinegar.

“It actually has a little more tang than the vinegar-based sauces, but it also has a little sweetness,” Thibault said.

Though he made his rhubarb-based menu with the festival in mind, there are a few sauces that may be added to his repertoire, he said.

Linda Osienski of Bennington, who submitted her rhubarb brandy to the rhubarb beverage tasting table, said rhubarb’s ability to be swapped out for other tart ingredients make it great for cooking. And she had plenty of it this year.

“You should have seen the rhubarb plant it came from. It was this high,” she said, indicating nearly chest height. “It’s a mountain.”

Mostly, she said, she uses her home-grown rhubarb to make brandy, a tradition she learned from her aunt, who used to give her and her husband homemade rhubarb brandy for Christmas every year. Osienski knew it would be a perfect addition to the annual Rhubarb Festival, so she got the recipe from her aunt and began making herself about a half-gallon annually for the past four years ago.

Her daughter also likes to use it in her baking, she said.

“It’s really versatile for substitutes,” she said. “We’ve used it to substitute for lemons, you can stick it in sauces, it’s easy to freeze, it’s easy to handle. And it’s native!”

Now an annual tradition, one of the staples of the Rhubarb Festival has become the baking competition, which awards prizes for both amateur bakers and professionals. This year, Aubrey Saxon of Antrim, of the Saxy Chef bakery, took home the first prize for the professional category for the second year in a row.

In the amateur category, Lynn Blair took first place, Marian Baker second, and David McKenzie third.

McKenzie has taken first place for the past two other years with his pure rhubarb pie with a homemade crust made with the rhubarb he grows at his Bennington home.

“It’s going great this year. Whatever weather we’ve had this year is working,” McKenzie said of his rhubarb plants.

McKenzie said he always submits the same rhubarb pie recipe to the contest each year.

“It’s about the only thing I’m famous for,” he joked. “I’m a real specialist – I pretty much only bake rhubarb pie.”


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