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Diatribe: When Rhubarb Chutney Explodes.

07/11/2013
Rhubarb Patch - Clif's

A seemingly harmless patch of rhubarb.

When we were youngsters, our circle of friends consisted entirely of relatives, neighbors, kids from church and a handful of classmates.  When it came time to play, we usually found ourselves in the company of neighbors.  More out of convenience than any actual affection or feelings of camaraderie, the neighborhood kids would happily occupy each other’s time.  I was particularly close to the two sisters who lived next door.  One was my age, Suzy, the other was one year older, and we had many adventures.

There was a row of hedges that separated their back yard from ours and both yards were kept neat and tidy.  Their father enjoyed gardening and worked tirelessly to keep weeds out of his rock garden and other flower beds.  He even had a compost pile underneath a huge willow tree at the back of the property where we would dig for worms.  One of his prized possessions was his rhubarb patch.

We were encouraged to play in both yards, digging and planting and catching bugs and feeding birds every summer but we were never NEVER to disturb the rhubarb.  It was poisonous!  It may be true that humans have been poisoned after ingesting the plant’s leaves, but simply being in the vicinity of her father’s rhubarb would send Suzy into fits.  Games of Hide and Seek could never include “that part of the yard” and any stray balls that rolled in that direction were abandoned until such time as her father could retrieve them.

Without reason, Suzy and I were both petrified of rhubarb.

The story of Margaret Goodwin of Henley-on-Thames, UK, on the other hand, teaches us that rhubarb can actually be quite dangerous.  Rhubarb, you see, explodes.

MargaretGoodwinsKitchen2

Last month Goodwin, 66, received some homemade rhubarb chutney from a friend and placed it in her refrigerator to enjoy at her leisure.  Several days later, as Margaret slept at 7:00 in the morning, there was an explosion in her kitchen so severe that, among other things, it blew the door off her fridge, hurled it across the room, lifted the ceiling and left cracks in the walls.

“If I had been standing in the way, it would probably have killed me.  The noise was absolutely deafening, even in my bedroom, and when I went to investigate, I wasn’t sure at first what had happened.  We don’t have gas in the building but it was obvious something out of the ordinary had happened.  I was quite shaken up.” – Margaret Goodwin, Survivor.

MargaretGoodwinsKitchenFire officials determined the cause of the explosion to be an uncovered dish of the homemade rhubarb chutney.  Apparently, as the chutney fermented in the refrigerator it created methane gas which, as it often does, became explosive when mixed with air.  Who knew?!

“You wouldn’t think a little jar of rhubarb chutney could cause so much devastation.” – Margaret Goodwin

To this day I have never tasted rhubarb.  Many people enjoy it in pies, jams, etc. but I’ve never even considered risking my life to try it.  Seriously … if I can’t play Hide and Seek near something I really don’t want to eat it!  I lost touch with Suzy many years ago but I’m willing to bet that she remains as anti-rhubarb today as we were when we were kids … and would still avoid “that part of the yard”.

Are you Rhubarbaphobic, too?

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6 Comments
  1. oh, gawd – rhubarb pie is what they serve in heaven. Buy it by the stalk at the farmer’s market – there are no manic gardeners standing by, it has no leaves and it is the non-explosive kind. Bake it in a pie (no wussy strawberries allowed!) and serve hot with the bestest and finest vanilla ice cream you can locate. You will have a glimpse of heaven and you’ll see my Auntie B there who made it every year for us kids.

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  2. My father in law loved rhubarb. To me, it is an acquired taste. I had no idea about the methane release, so that may give me another reason to say no. If the methane is true, it may give you the wrong kind of gas if you eat it. Of course, if I did eat it again, I think I will cut it with the vanilla ice cream as The Dog’s Mother noted. Thanks for sharing, BTG

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  3. I am definitely not Rhubarbaphobic! I love rhubarb! My parents always had a rhubarb patch & my mother would make stewed rhubarb & rhubarb pie, mmmm mmmmm. When I first moved away from home, I used to go back to my parent’s home & harvest at least one crop of rhubarb every year. I would cut it & cube it & freeze it. My parents got one-third & I took the other two-thirds (since I did all the work). I would have rhubarb all winter long. To this day I love rhubarb pie!

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