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The Ole' Rhubarb Switcheroo!

By: Jamie Seitz
Find out how a friend with extra "rhubarb" turned sour in this hilarious plant mixup.

rhubarb illustration

Rhubarb: The taste of nostalgia

One of my earliest memories is following my Grandma Jo to the yard at five or six years old to cut fresh rhubarb stalks for a snack. My cousins and I were each given a small Tupperware® cup (all shades of orange, brown, and green, courtesy of the 1980s) with an inch of sugar at the bottom to dip our rhubarb. Sour bite after sour bite, we finished off those stalks and promptly asked for more. The sweet and sour combination would give us a bellyache later. Still, it represented the beginning of the summer, warm weather, and long barefoot Sunday afternoons playing at Grandma’s.

Free rhubarb? Ok!

To this day, rhubarb is still a favorite of mine. I don’t get as excited to eat it raw as I did when I was six, but I make a mean crisp. Imagine how delighted I was when an acquaintance from the gym offered me several big bags of rhubarb. Neither Ben nor his mother enjoyed it, but it grew wild in droves in their backyard, and he was happy to drop it off for me. Immediately, I accepted and told him all about how I would eat it as a kid.

At home, I pulled out my favorite recipes and bragged to my husband about how lucky we were to get all this free rhubarb. I was deciding how much I would use right away and how much I would freeze for later when Ben pulled up in my drive. He wasn’t lying about the quantity he had! He approached my door with four stuffed grocery bags.

Ben was happy to get rid of it. They hated it, he said. They had even tried it in sugar, like I suggested, but it was no better. I agreed it was an acquired taste and even offered to bake him a rhubarb crisp to see if he preferred that. But he adamantly refused and drove away.


Rhubarb imposter

I emptied the first bag of produce into the sink and began to wash it. Odd, I thought. This rhubarb is kind of fuzzy. I gave it a sniff, expecting to smell the familiar tang. It smelled…not like rhubarb… but like my hands after weeding the garden. I broke off a piece and reluctantly put my tongue on it. Not. Rhubarb.

After I washed my mouth out several times, I pawed through the other bags. All were the same fuzzy rhubarb imposter plants. It took me a quick online search to discover it was common burdock (Arctium minus).

Not rhubarb. And definitely not the ingredients to make a delicious crisp. As I tossed it into the trash, I thought about Ben and his mom dipping burdock into a cup of sugar like I’d suggested, and giggled. No amount of sugar could make that taste good. No wonder he was so quick to give it all to me. 

Jamie now has real rhubarb growing in her garden, and she makes crisp as often as she wants to.

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Published: March 11, 2024

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