Saturday 16 December 2017

Kept in the dark and fed manure

By David Medcalf

Dear Sir,

I wish to be considered by your organisation, the Rhubarb Society, for the post of spokesperson. I realise that I am no Sean Spicer, having none of the abrasive appetite for alternative facts exhibited by the man from Donald Trump's White House. However, the person you choose to champion rhubarb will surely be sufficiently armed with real facts which require no alternatives.

Besides, I would bring to the post a passion for the subject, being whole-heartedly convinced that rhubarb is the forgotten star of the horticultural world and long overdue a public relations makeover.The sad reality is that rhubarb has been side-lined for many years in favour of photogenic fruits such as strawberries and pears, both massively over-rated, over-hyped and over-blown.

If selected for the position of spokesman, I would ride into battle fortified by the unshakeable personal conviction that rhubarb is the tastiest plant of them all, whether served with cream or with custard - and let the rest take their place behind us (may I make so bold, sir, as to say us?) in the queue. Rhubarb is more gorgeous than gooseberries, more delicious than damsons, more charming than cherries, more luscious than lychees - I could go on.

All that said in enthusiastic favour of the finished product, the realist in me acknowledges that rhubarb has a few image problems. If taste alone were the guide, demand for rhubarb would be many times greater than it is at present. It may be similarly argued that there would never have been any need to invent the cornflake if only porridge did not look like a splash of beigey grey vomit. Rhubarb is among the also-rans behind all the competing berries and the massed ranks of citrus in the PR stakes because it tends to disintegrate during cooking into a formless mess which leaves it, frankly, short on sex appeal.

In seeking to promote rhubarb, it would be a waste of time to hire actress Jennifer Lawrence and have her press a plump stalk of Temperley Early to her rouged lips. And there are other aspects to the profile building challenge which stem from the rhubarb plant's preference for growing ankle deep in ripe manure, not to mention the fact that the leaves of rhubarb are poisonous. It has surely not helped that rhubarb plants are referred to by gardeners as 'stools' - conjuring up thoughts that have nothing to do with furniture. The growers of rhubarb also have a habit of covering their stools with buckets in order to keep them in the dark at times during the year, a practice which does not make for good photo-opportunities.

In response to all these negatives, I must point out that promoting a product mired in manure and shielded from the light has never stood in the way of those who have made mushrooms such a sought-after food. So it is up to us (am I really premature to write 'us'?) in the Rhubarb Society to match the example of the fungus fans and come up with fresh perceptions of rhubarb, courting publicity on a widespread scale. Ply politicians and policy makers with rhubarb wine until they pass out. Introduce our chefs to the joys of organic rhubarb chutney and rekindle in households around the land an appreciation of home-made rhubarb tart.

I want a Rhubarb Society web-site carrying the latest recipes for the casual user and in-depth discussion of the various varieties for the cognoscenti. Bring the younger generation on board in this great crusade with a competition to find the school which grows the longest stick of rhubarb. And let there be a nationwide search to coin a killer rhubarb slogan. I have been mulling over a few ideas myself, though it is no help that the word 'rhubarb' is as unrhymeable as the word 'orange'.

'Rhubarb puts the cool into stool' maybe. Or how about 'Rhubarb is for real'? Real what, I am not quite sure yet, but you get the drift.

In making this job application, I stress that my wage demands will be slight. In fact, I would be happy carry out duties for free in return for successful tips on how to grow rhubarb, as up to now the knack has entirely eluded me.

Wexford People

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